Living on the Fault Line
A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.
Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo
This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.
The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.
After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.
Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.
During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.
“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”
Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.
Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.
After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.
But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.
Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.
Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.
The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.
For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.
Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”
The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.
The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.
This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”
Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”
But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.
Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.
All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.
For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.
Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.
To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.
In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.
As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)
In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.
The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).
Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.
Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.
This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.
“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.
For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)
All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.
Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”
Planning for the Big One
For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.
In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.
Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”
Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.
This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”
A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.
“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”
Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.
India feels confident in its strategic deterrent capabilities, which would be bolstered by the continuing induction of Agni-V missiles and the commissioning of nuclear submarines, despite being behind China and Pakistan in terms of nuclear weapons.
According to a recent analysis in the US-based Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, Pakistan continues to develop its nuclear arsenal with more warheads, delivery systems, and an expanding fissile materials production business.
China, India, and Pakistan are all working on new ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and nuclear delivery systems that can be launched from the sea.
To counter perceived Indian conventional military threats, Pakistan has lowered the barrier for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities.
The Pakistani government has never officially stated the extent of its nuclear arsenal, and news reports concerning nuclear weapons are regularly embellished by media sources.
Approximately 13,080 nuclear warheads are held by the world’s nuclear-armed powers, with Russia and the United States accounting for nearly 90% of them.There are around 9,600 warheads in military service, with the remainder awaiting disarmament.
But Pakistan, as of date, has a nuclear weapons stockpile of approximately 165 warheads, according to The Arms Control Association, a neutral membership group located in the United States.
And these figures should be concerning for India.
Because Pakistan is seeking a “full spectrum deterrent posture,” which includes both long-range missiles and planes for strategic missions and a number of short-range, lower-yield nuclear-capable weapon systems to counter military threats below the strategic level.
China also has a limited number of non-strategic (also known as tactical) nuclear weapons that are not subject to treaty restrictions.
Country Nuclear Weapons
(Data source: armscontrol.org)
China now has roughly 350 nuclear warheads in its arsenal.
However, the country is rapidly building its nuclear weapons, closing the gap with the United States, according to a Pentagon report.
According to that report, China might have 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027, and 1,000 by 2030 — a nuclear arsenal two-and-a-half times the amount estimated by the Pentagon only a year ago.
India, on the other hand, possesses 156 nuclear weapons.
Watch | Pakistan’s nuclear weapons at risk of theft, sabotage
India and Pakistan are all known to have nuclear weapons and have never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test. Pakistan accelerated work on its clandestine nuclear weapons development as a result of the test.
In May 1998, India and Pakistan both openly showcased their nuclear weapons capability by conducting a series of tit-for-tat nuclear tests.
Despite Upcoming Negotiations, Iran Keeps Expanding Enriched Uranium Stockpile
Iran says it has increased its stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium to 25 kilograms, an almost fourfold increase from the level reported in June, as Tehran prepares for negotiations later this month with world powers to preserve a 2015 deal aimed at curbing its nuclear program.
“So far we have produced 25 kilograms of 60 percent uranium, which, except for countries with nuclear weapons, no other country is able to produce,” Iranian media quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying on November 5.
Kamalvandi added that Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium has reached over 210 kilograms, well beyond the 120-kilogram target set by parliament.
The announcement potentially complicates efforts to revive the landmark 2015 deal between Iran and world powers. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement in 2018, but Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia have tried to preserve the accord.
President Joe Biden has said he is willing to rejoin the pact if Iran returns to full compliance, but indirect negotiations between Tehran and world powers that started in April in Vienna were put on hold in June after the Islamic republic elected hard-liner Ibrahim Raisi as president.
The nuclear agreement, which offered curbs on international sanctions in exchange for Iran’s limiting its nuclear program, caps the purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67 percent — enough for civilian nuclear energy and far below the 90 percent purity needed for an atomic weapon.
Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons and said its breaches are reversible if Washington lifts sanctions and rejoins the agreement.
Western officials and analysts believe Tehran’s escalation of enrichment is aimed at gaining leverage during the negotiations that are due to resume on November 29 in Vienna.
Biden and European leaders criticized Tehran last week for continuing to enrich uranium to a higher levels, calling the move provocative.
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ReutersNovember 5, 20213:10 AM MDTLast Updated 13 hours ago
Nov 5 (Reuters) – Iran has increased its stockpile of 60% enriched uranium to 25 kilograms (55 pounds), state media reported on Friday, potentially adding to complications dogging efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Negotiations are due to resume on Nov. 29 in Vienna. But Western powers have said Iran’s accelerating enrichment of uranium closer to weapons grade, breaching limits set by the pact after Washington under then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018, is dimming chances of salvaging it.
“So far we have produced 25 kilograms of 60% uranium, which, except for countries with nuclear weapons, no other country is able to produce,” Iranian media quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, as saying.
Iran has in the past denied seeking nuclear weapons, saying it is refining uranium only for civilian energy uses, and has said its breaches are reversible if the United States lifts sanctions and rejoins the agreement.
In April, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Tehran had begun the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.
Iran said in June it had made 6.5 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60%.
The nuclear deal caps the purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, the level suitable for most civilian nuclear energy, well under the 20% achieved before the 2015 deal and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration says it wants to return to the deal but disagrees with Iran on which steps need to be taken and when, with key issues being what nuclear limits Tehran will accept and what sanctions Washington will remove.
Western officials and analysts believe Tehran’s escalation of enrichment, while being in no hurry to return to talks that were adjourned in June when an anti-Western hardliner was elected president, is meant to gain leverage to extract more concessions when negotiations do resume. read more
The Biden administration said on Oct. 31 that it was unclear whether Iran was willing to rejoin the talks “in a meaningful way”. read more
Reporting by Dubai newsroom, editing by Mark Heinrich
Pentagon estimates China’s arsenal would be two-and-a-half times the size of what it predicted only a year ago.
China is expanding its nuclear arsenal much quicker than anticipated, narrowing the gap with the United States, the Pentagon said in a report published.
China could have 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027, and could top 1,000 by 2030 – an arsenal two-and-a-half times the size of what the Pentagon predicted only a year ago, according to the report published on Wednesday.
By comparison, the United States has about 3,750 nuclear weapons and has no plans to increase. As recently as 2003 the US total was about 10,000.
China is investing in, and expanding, the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms and building the infrastructure necessary to support this major expansion of its nuclear forces.
The assessment came in the US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress on Chinese military developments.
Like the US and Russia, the two leading nuclear powers, China is building a “nuclear triad”, with capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons from land-based ballistic missiles, from missiles launched from the air, and from submarines, it said.
The report said China is likely not seeking a capability to launch an unprovoked nuclear strike on a nuclear-armed adversary – primarily the US – but wanted to deter attacks from others by maintaining a credible threat of nuclear retaliation.
A year ago, the Pentagon’s China report said the country had about 200 deliverable warheads and would double that by 2030.
Independent researchers have in recent months published satellite photographs of new nuclear missile silos in western China.
In a rebuke on Thursday, China said Washington’s report on its nuclear stockpile expansion was overblown.
“The report released by the US Department of Defense, like previous similar reports, ignores facts and is full of prejudice,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
He added that Washington was using the report to “hype up talk of the China nuclear threat”, and described the United States as the “world’s largest source of nuclear threat”.
The acceleration “is very concerning to us”, a US defence official said.
It “raises questions about their intentions”, the official said, calling for more transparency from Beijing over its nuclear force development.
The Pentagon has declared China its principal security concern for the future, as Beijing undertakes to build the People’s Liberation Army into “world-class forces” by 2049, according to its official plan.
China is expanding its air, space and sea forces with the aim of projecting its power globally, much as the US military has for decades.
The rivalry has increased concerns about a possible clash between the US and China, especially over Taiwan, which China claims as its territory but which is closely supported by the US.
The new US report said China’s swift military modernisation aims to have the capability by 2027 to overcome any pushback to an effort to reclaim Taiwan, by pressure or military force.
By 2027, the report says, China aims to have “the capabilities to counter the US military in the Indo-Pacific region, and compel Taiwan’s leadership to the negotiation table on Beijing’s terms”.
The report confirmed news stories in recent months saying that in October 2020 Pentagon officials were forced to quell real concerns in Beijing that the US, driven by domestic political tensions related to the presidential election, intended to instigate a conflict with China in the South China Sea.
Underscoring its fears, the PLA had issued intensified warnings in state-controlled media, launched large-scale military exercises, expanded deployments and put troops on heightened readiness, the report said.
After senior Pentagon officials moved to directly speak to their Chinese counterparts, the concerns eased and a Chinese defence spokesman announced publicly that the US in fact did not plan to trigger a crisis.
“These events highlighted the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation, and underscored the importance of effective and timely communication,” the report said.
The report also questioned the PLA’s intent in biological research into substances that potentially have both medical and military uses.
“Studies conducted at PRC military medical institutions discussed identifying, testing, and characterizing diverse families of potent toxins with dual-use applications,” the report said, raising concerns over compliance with global biological and chemical weapons treaties.
Such concerns have echoed since early 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic erupted first in the area of a Chinese biological research laboratory with PLA connections in Hunan.
The Chinese have denied the lab had anything to do with the COVID outbreak, but have limited access to it from investigators.
The report also asserted that China has begun construction of at least three new missile fields that “cumulatively contain hundreds” of underground silos from which ICBMs could be launched.
The report provided no details on the new missile fields, but private nuclear analysts have reported that satellite imagery shows what appear to be vast new missile silo fields under construction in north-central China.
In an update published Tuesday, analysts Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said they have seen continued construction progress and have discovered “unique facilities that appear intended to support missile operations once the silo fields become operational.”
One of those facilities, they said, is a complex in the mountains surrounded by what appear to be four tunnels into underground facilities. The tunnels are under construction and there are large amounts of excavated soil dumped nearby. This facility’s function is unknown but “could potentially involve missile and/or warhead storage and management,” the analysts said.
The fifth election since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 generated a record-low turnout of just 41 percent. However, the results contained some surprises.
While the elections took place about three weeks ago, the Pro-Iranian groups continue to denounce the results from Iraq’s elections as “manipulation” and a “scam.” That’s because the biggest losers were the pro-Iranian parties with links to the armed groups that make up the Iranian proxy militias known as Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, suffered a sharp decline from 48 to about a dozen of the parliament’s 329 seats, according to the reported results.
“We will appeal against the results and we reject them,” said a joint statement by several parties, including the Fateh Alliance, back in mid-October.
“We will take all available measures to prevent the manipulation of votes,” added the statement.
The Fatah Alliance includes the Badr Organisation, the Al-Sadiqoun Bloc, which is the political wing of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Kata’ib Hezbollah, and Kata’ib al-Imam Ali.
Another one of Hashd’s most powerful factions, the Hezbollah Brigades, rejected the election as “the biggest scam and rip-off the Iraqi people have been subjected to in modern history.”
“The Hashd al-Shaabi brothers are the main targets,” said its spokesman Abu Ali al-Askari.
The rejection of the election results by the Iranian proxy militias has thrust the country into uncertainty and political crisis.
The militias have made tent basecamps right outside the heavily fortified Green Zone and have threatened violence if the election results aren’t overturned.
The very small voter turnout had no bearing on the election’s results. Despite the Iranian militias’ protests, the Iraqi people roundly rejected their continued presence.
The results were praised by the United States, the UN Security Council, and others for being the smoothest in years and without major technical glitches.
The biggest winner appears to be Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who won 73 out of 329 parliament seats. While he maintains good relations with Iran, al-Sadr publicly opposes external interference in Iraq’s affairs. The Taqadum party led by Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, a Sunni, came second with 37 seats. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc won 35 seats.
Back in 2004, the followers of al-Sadr fought with U.S. forces in Baghdad and across the southern provinces. The United States pledged to kill or capture him. He was considered, after al-Qaeda and ISIS, as the top threat against the U.S.-led coalition.
Now, the once firebrand cleric has softened his tone somewhat and is beginning to emerge as an ally, although a distant one, of Washington in keeping the Iranians from furthering their influence in the country.
He welcomed all embassies into Baghdad as long as they don’t interfere with Iraq’s internal affairs.
“All embassies are welcome, as long as they do not interfere in Iraqi affairs and government formation,” al-Sadr said… “Iraq is for Iraqis only.”
Al-Sadr addressed Iranian proxy militias and called for their disarmament.
“From now on, arms must be restricted in the hands of the state,” he said in an address broadcast on Iraqi state television. “The use of weapons shall be prevented outside of the state’s framework,” even for those claiming to be the “resistance” to the U.S. presence, he added. “It is time for the people to live in peace, without occupation, terrorism, militias, kidnapping, and fear.”
The militias claim that they don’t answer to the Iraqi government. Many fear that the militias are more powerful than Iraqi security forces.
The Iranian proxy militias lost a lot of support after they brutally put down a youth protest movement in 2019 and 2020. Despite the people rejecting them at the polls, they’re trying to force al-Sadr to include them in the cabinet.
A protest note was handed to the German military by the Russian Defense Ministry in response to comments about deterring Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Germany especially had been coming out with statements about the pressing need to focus on Russia and reducing their nuclear capabilities, causing Russia to deliver the note. According to Reuters, Russia announced it would break off existing institutionalised contacts with NATO and the alliance agreed on a new plan to defend against any potential Russian attack.
In an interview last Thursday, incumbent Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stated that: “We have to make it very clear to Russia that in the end — and that is also the deterrent doctrine — we are ready to use such means [nuclear weapons] so that it has a deterrent effect beforehand and nobody gets the idea…” It is alarming that Germany is quick to state that they would put to use such weapons against Russia. The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that “there are level-headed people in the German leadership who can prevent their defence minister from recklessly wanting to test our armed forces.” It is unknown what the note from Russia stated, but it introduces a possible strife between the two nations over nuclear power.
Janis Kluge, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, views the current relationship between Berlin and Moscow as at an all-time low in post-Soviet history. Germany-Russia relations have always been complicated with shifts from alliances to total warfare. The recent rise in negative relations stemmed from Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Within NATO, Germany was quick to impose multiple rounds of harsh sanctions against oil and other Russian industries. This leaves Germany and Russia with unstable relations today, meaning the note is indicative of a possible major conflict between the two.
Germany has made an aggressive threat towards Russia by stating that they would go as far as to use nuclear weapons in acts of deterrence. This puts hundreds of millions of people at risk, as a deadly conflict would arise if Germany took such severe action. Germany’s initial comments and responses to the situation are intended to make Russia fearful of an attack and be cautious with their nuclear program. Weapons of mass destruction like the ones in question are obviously catastrophic, which pushes the common reaction to often be the use of them as it is the only way to counter such a massive threat. It is ironic that many nations choose to fight the problem with further use of the same weapons. However, nations may not see many alternatives to preventing the spread of nuclear power as they have to put forth a large enough and credible type of threat.
According to the Arms Control Association, Russia possesses approximately 6,400 nuclear warheads, making it the largest stockpile in the world. This raises fear among others and creates unstable relations between NATO and Russia. It is also unsettling that Russia has the power to threaten nuclear conflict in response to any other conventional conflicts. All of these then raise the question: why is this problem persisting and why have nations not figured out how to end this threat?
Following the conclusion of the Cold War there have been treaties and efforts put in place by nations to promote the decline of nuclear proliferation. Many of these efforts have been between nations in NATO and Russia including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (in which Russia is still apart of), and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which Russia chose not to sign. Some of these have had successes in Russia leading them to reduce their programs, however, there are often questions surrounding possible Russian violation of the terms, or nations pulling out of the treaty causing other parties to build up their nuclear arsenal in fear. These negotiations have proven to be no simple fix as it is difficult keeping nations like Russia accountable and knowing if countries are reporting accurate information.
The current situation, responses, and issues have been outlined above, but it is additionally important to discuss what could be done differently. Germany’s comments about Russian nuclear programs and the possible use of such weapons against them are alarming and threatening. This reaction creates an escalating situation and a spread of fear throughout the two nations and all other parties involved. Attempting to deter Russian nuclear capabilities with aggressive action is only likely to make the circumstance worse. Russian leadership will likely become agitated and they still will not have any incentive to want to cooperate with other nations’ demands.
Looking forward, nations like Germany and even all NATO nations should have a greater focus on building relations with Russia rather than straining them. It is advisable that countries such as the U.S. collaborate with Germany to deescalate the situation while formulating a better plan to work with Russia. This should not include the threat of nuclear warfare but rather how collective agreements can be met and respected. It is important to identify why Russia has nuclear weapons or feels the need to expand their program. They may feel threatened by other nations and need a means to protect themselves. In this situation it is important to make the other nation feel protected rather than threatened unlike what Germany is promoting, because that only gives Russia more reason to build up their arsenal. If leaders can reach agreements not only with nuclear programs but in many areas of national security, the economy, and others it is likely Russia would be more willing to comply.
As stronger relations are being established, nuclear treaties can be introduced or revised to increase the likelihood of Russia complying. There has been success in the past such as the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) where the U.S. and Russia both agreed to reduce their stockpiles to a certain number, which they did. Instances like this show that when nations collaborate or agree to something together there is a greater chance parties comply. Fighting fire with fire would only escalate matters and no nation in the world wants to go to war when nuclear weapons are involved. Germany also is tying its hands when they state that they would use nuclear warfare- are they actually likely to launch an attack? Collaborations and agreements that delve into various areas of society have a much greater outcome and less risk involved that puts the public in danger. Germany should work to establish these with Russia with the backing of alliances like NATO and the UN.