While nowhere near to the extent of the West Coast, damaging earthquakes can and do affect much of the eastern half of the country.
For example, across the Tennesse River Valley lies the New Madrid Fault Line. While much smaller in size than those found farther west, the fault has managed to produce several earthquakes over magnitude 7.0 in the last couple hundred years.
In 1886, an estimated magnitude 7.0 struck Charleston, South Carolina along a previously unknown seismic zone. Nearly the entire town had to be rebuilt.
The eastern half of the U.S. has its own set of vulnerabilities from earthquakes.
These older rocks have had much more time to bond together with other rocks under the tremendous pressure of Earth’s crust. This allows seismic energy to transfer between rocks more efficiently during an earthquake, causing the shaking to be felt much further.
This is why, during the latest quake in North Carolina, impacts were felt not just across the state, but reports of shaking came as far as Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 300 miles away.
Reports of shaking from different earthquakes of similar magnitude.
When a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck Virginia in 2011, not only were numerous historical monuments in Washington, D.C. damaged, shaking was reported up and down the East Coast with tremors even reported in Canada.
There is no way to accurately predict when or where an earthquake may strike.
Some quakes will have a smaller earthquake precede the primary one. This is called a foreshock.
The problem is though, it’s difficult to say whether the foreshock is in fact a foreshock and not the primary earthquake. Only time will tell the difference.
The United State Geological Survey (USGS) is experimenting with early warning detection systems in the West Coast.
While this system cannot predict earthquakes before they occur, they can provide warning up to tens of seconds in advance that shaking is imminent. This could provide just enough time to find a secure location before the tremors begin.
Much like hurricanes, tornadoes, or snowstorms, earthquakes are a natural occuring phenomenon that we can prepare for.
The USGS provides an abundance of resources on how to best stay safe when the earth starts to quake.
The preservation of nuclear weapons by Germany was suddenly called into question. The fact is that parties with left-wing or similar views are negotiating the creation of a new government – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDD), who are known for their anti-war sentiments and rejection of nuclear weapons.
The basing of a nuclear arsenal on the territory of the FRG is part of NATO’s strategy for the joint use of nuclear weapons. The exact number of nuclear warheads on German territory is unknown, but experts estimate their number to be about 20 (B61 hydrogen bombs).
Among the Social Democrats, the nuclear issue was relevant back in the 1950s, when their leaders, skeptical of the transatlantic alliance, dreamed of creating a nuclear-free zone in the center of Europe.
At the same time, in the 1970s, it was under the Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt that American medium-range ballistic missiles appeared in Germany, which caused a split in the party.
And so far, the Social Democrats have not come to a consensus on whether the country needs US nuclear weapons. Among the active opponents of its preservation, for example, the head of the SPD faction in the Bundestag Rolf Mützenich. In 2020, he expressed the opinion that nuclear weapons do not enhance Germany’s security.
As a party, the Greens grew out of the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
In addition to the views of the future government, Germany’s nuclear potential is also threatened by a lack of funds.
Germany will soon have to decide what to do after Panavia Tornado tactical bombers are decommissioned in the second half of the 2020s. The Luftwaffe after that, in fact, will have nothing to use nuclear bombs.
The purchase of new aircraft Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F-18, for which the government of Angela Merkel is preparing, requires billions of euros. For a new government that is not prone to aggressive policies, such spending can be questionable, at least in the eyes of the electorate.
How serious is it
According to the Politico edition, Germany’s hypothetical decision to reduce or abandon its nuclear potential may lead to unexpected steps by neighboring allied countries, which are used to relying on the “German umbrella”.
The USA, Poland and the Baltic countries may even consider such a step on the part of the FRG a betrayal. The Balts will then almost certainly ask Washington to place nuclear weapons in their countries. This, in turn, will further exacerbate tensions with Russia and signal to other players of divisions within NATO.
This development of events is being considered by NATO. Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that if Germany refuses to deploy nuclear weapons under the new left-wing government, it could be deployed in other European countries.
“Germany can decide whether there should be weapons on its territory, but the alternative is nuclear weapons in other European countries, including to the east of Germany,” he said.
This scenario caused discontent in Moscow. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, Stoltenberg’s statement testifies that the NATO-Russia fundamental act no longer exists for NATO, since it states that the alliance will not deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members and will refuse to additionally deploy significant military forces there.
The head of the Russian delegation at the Vienna talks, Konstantin Gavrilov, in a conversation with RIA Novosti, said that the NATO leadership “has lost touch with reality.” “Instead of responding to Russia’s call for de-escalation of tensions in Europe, the chief official of the North Atlantic Alliance declares that NATO will move even closer to the borders of our country in nuclear terms,” he said indignantly.
Is such a development of events possible
At the moment, it is not entirely clear what place the issue of nuclear weapons occupies in the current negotiations of the SPD, the SvDG and the Greens. The joint statement of the parties only says that the parties will take a balanced and well-reasoned decision on this topic.
Artem Sokolov, a researcher at the Center for European Studies of the IMI MGIMO, in a commentary to Gazeta.Ru, expressed the opinion that for the Social Democrats who won the parliamentary elections, the topic of nuclear weapons is not really relevant now.
He also called a scenario unlikely in which at least the Greens would insist on the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from Germany.
“For this party, such a demand is a vestige of the Cold War era, and it does not intend to turn it into a matter of principle in coalition negotiations today. A substantive discussion about the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany requires a revision of the entire German transatlantic consensus, for which Berlin is not ready now, ”the analyst is sure.
German political scientist Alexander Rahr, in a conversation with Gazeta.Ru, noted that it is still difficult to predict what decision the new ruling coalition will take.
“Even if the parties mentioned come to power and the Social Democrats put this issue on the agenda, there will still be a very tough discussion among the elites. There are a number of people, for example, the head of the Munich Security Conference Wolfgang Ischinger and the generals, who believe that in this case Germany will lose its status as America’s friend. And secondly, what this will lead to is that atomic bombs will end up on the territory of Poland, which makes it a more important ally than Germany. This cannot be allowed. There will be a lot of pressure on the government, and it will understand that everything is not so simple, ”he said.
On the 10th of October 2021, Iraqis voted for 329 parliamentarians in the new national assembly. Twenty-eight days later, Sunday the 7th of November, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was targeted in an assassination attempt that he escaped unscathed. An explosive-laden drone exploded within his residence in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a highly secure and protected district of the Iraqi capital. Amongst his personal guard, multiple wounded have been reported. The attack was partially repelled, as two drones directed towards the residence were intercepted.
Shortly after in a video uploaded on his Twitter, Kadhimi condemned his opponents and the military means they used to weigh in on the current power balance: “The cowardly rockets and drone attacks build no countries, nor future.”
It is in this context that the President of the United States of America Joe Biden expressed his relief that “the Prime Minister was not injured and (I) commend the leadership he has shown in calling for calm, restraint, and dialogue to protect the institutions of the state and strengthen the democracy Iraqis so richly deserve.” Biden isn’t the only one who is worried by this escalation. France has also categorically opposed, “All shapes of destabilisation attempts, violence and intimidation in the country.” Even Iraq has called upon Iraqis to use their “Vigilance to defuse the plots aimed at the security” of Iraq.
Through the reactions of countries from the international community and countries from the region, an assessment can be drawn: the security and stability of Iraq constitute the epicentre of the world. Consequently, the radicalisation of conflicting ideas is objectively unacceptable for anyone within or outside the country. This is why Kadhimi’s threat, “We know them well,” is not likely to come to light because appeasement imposes its own demands: secrecy surrounding those who have organised and perpetrated the attempted assassination.
Winners and losers
The preliminary results announced by the electoral commission highlight a common political fact, which is the absence of a national winner who is nationally recognised. If indeed they are multiple winners, it is clear that the winner for the Shias is not the same as for the Sunnis, nor the Kurds, and vice versa.
The Shia political landscape, like the Kurdish and Sunni landscapes, is fragmented into three major poles: nationalists, pro-Iranians, and the actors of the protest movement. Muqtada al-Sadr, who currently personifies Shias with a specific idea of Iraqi nationalism, has unquestionably won against all his pro-Iranian advisories. With his estimated 73 seats, he is ahead of the Aqed al-Watani coalition (5 seats), the Fatih Alliance (15 seats), and also the State of Law Coalition (35 seats). The arrival of twenty or so leaders from the protest movement is a considerable shift within the Shia electoral landscape because from now on, the nationalists and pro-Iranians must contend with this new change that has a significant electoral base.
Notwithstanding, the pro-Iranian setback must be nuanced. If admittedly they have lost seats with only a total of 55 out of 329 seats, once the three forces have been reunited (Aqed al-Watani, Fatih, State of Law), they maintain an electoral base that is intact: 1,150,144 people voted for them. Yet, the Sadrist nationalist voters only represent a base of 906,110 voices. This can partly be explained by the lack of understanding of the new electoral law by the pro-Iranian pole and to the smart handling of this same law by the Sadr nationalists. Indeed, this new law establishes a uninominal ballot and increases the number of constituencies, which could give more opportunities to independent candidates.
With the Kurds, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) confirms its domination in the Kurdish political landscape by obtaining 33 seats on its own, without any coalition. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) comes far behind the KDP with only 15 seats. However, the New Generation party, which is the Kurdish equivalent to the protest movement in the Shia south, gains in power by snatching nine seats – something that had never happened before in the Kurdish political landscape.
The difference compared with the Shia political forces is the fact that for the Kurds the number of seats reflects the electoral base of each actor. Thus, the 768,791 people who voted for the KDP are perfectly distributed and oriented in each constituency in the Kurdish territory to ensure that Barzani’s party was able to obtain 33 seats. This is equally true on a smaller scale for the PUK, with 15 seats for 290,126 voters. The only weakness can be found amongst New Generation. With its 234,314 voters, it could have obtained more than its nine seats and win 13 seats.
In the Sunni area, we have been able to observe a new power balance. Indeed, the speaker of the parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi who ran in a party that secured only six seats in 2018, has made swift progress by gaining 37 seats this time. Facing him, the coalition led by his rival Khamis al-Khanjar, was only able to win 13 seats.
Strong in his electoral apparatus and aided by foreign experts, Halbousi managed his electoral base in perfect accordance with the new electoral law. Thus, his 628,302 votes give him access to 37 seats. To the contrary, his rival Khanjar has probably not been able to manage the new rules of the game with the same intelligence. Consequently, he transformed 401,903 votes in his favour to a weak total of 13 seats.
The question on everyone’s mind now is the following: can the Shia (Sadr), Kurdish (Barzani), and Sunni (Halbousi) winners form a government? Theoretically yes, although this is not likely. The functioning of the political system of the state will not enable the emergence of a coalition in power, nor with the opposition forces in the national assembly. Thus, there exists a scenario where the country could enter a civil war due to the militia-ization of antagonist political forces. The mediation of the disagreements would thus take place with drones instead of political debates. This explains the fact that since 2003, all political forces are simultaneously in the government and in opposition, leading them to behave both like government and opposition actors.
Since 2003, Iraq is a promised land for the meddling of regional or international powers. The country does not possess any lever to counter this. Admittedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran or the United States of America are often designated as the culprits. Yet Turkey, Arab countries, and also the European Union’s actions are also observed, to a different degree.
On paper, Iraq is an independent state, but in concrete terms, it is the Iranians and Americans who filter the main strategic direction of the country. These great two regional and international powers have a common strategy, despite their disagreements on multiple files other than Iraq. These include not letting the country slide into civil war, preventing the escalation of local actors, and upholding the country’s unity.
The United States’ disengagement strategy in Iraq demands that Washington mobilises all its influence to ensure that Iraq’s stabilisation façade is not called into question. The Islamic Republic of Iran also has no strategic interest in jeopardising this claimed stability. To the contrary, a civil war, an implosion, an explosion, or a loss of security in Iraq could affect the stability and security of Iran. However, it is clear that Iran has no desire for Iraq to find its full health and regional place in the Arab environment. Tehran has never forgotten the eight years of war with Iraq in the 1980s. This trauma remains vivid for the Iranian regime and is why it’s highly unlikely that they will allow the emergence of a strong state or simply a robust Iraqi state.
Turkey’s influence takes on multiple shapes. In the Kurdistan Region, it is simultaneously military, economic, and diplomatic. At war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on its soil, the Turkish army has established in the last few years at least 33 military bases in the territory managed by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Turkey thus demonstrates its willingness to hunt the PKK wherever they may be on Iraqi territory, from Zakho to Shingal. The intrusion is also economic, because it is through Turkey that Kurdish oil passes to be then sold on the international market. Consequently, Ankara always influences the economic orientations of the KRG.
By these geopolitical determinisms, the KRG often finds itself obligated to take into account the grand diplomatic strategies of Turkey regarding Iraq. Despite the importance of the KRG for Turkey, the latter tries to broaden its perimeter of action to include the Sunni area of influence in the ancient province of Nineveh. It is in this scope that the Turkish president tries to reconcile Halbousi and Khanjar, the two Sunni leaders.
The Iraqi policy of the Arab countries is, to a large extent, spearheaded by the Gulf countries, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). After multiple years of confrontation with Iran on Iraqi soil, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman now adopts a more diplomatic approach, vacillating between negotiations and an appeasement mind set with Iran, linked to the Iraqi question.
The approach of the UAE is more radical, aggressive, and less nuanced. Mohammed Bin Zayed’s UAE is working on bolstering the Sunni community in Iraq and even the creating sanctuary in its territory on the basis of its Sunni character. This reconstruction could go as far as the formulation of a political entity, following the example of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The European Union, through France, also tries to act in the political, security, and economic sectors of the country. Indeed, France believes that Iraq suffers from great structural dysfunctions and that without a new political formula it is unlikely that the country can guarantee the vital minimum of stability, security, and development. Could France accompany the Iraqis towards the construction of a new formula? Without the direct help of European countries or of the United States, this seems unlikely because Paris alone, despite its good will, does not possess the sufficient means to accomplish its Iraqi dream.
The probability to form a new government remains high. With the help of the international community and neighbouring countries, notably Iran, Iraqis should have, in the coming months, a new government in which everyone will be able to take part. Sadr’s nationalists and the pro-Iranians are moving towards a distribution of the dedicated positions for the Shia within the government, amounting to 50% of the positions under the system adopted after 2003. Halbousi and Khanjar’s Sunnis will proceed using the same method by sharing 25% of the positions that belong to them. The KDP and PUK will find a similar formula to share the 20% of Kurdish positions in the government. The protest movement in the south and New Generation in Kurdistan will place themselves in the opposition and continue to denounce the system.
Thus, the new chapter of this drama series in Iraq remains in perfect continuity with previous episodes. For several years now, the entirety of Iraqi political forces has called for reform of a broken political system. Yet, in practice, there still does not exist a major political party that possesses a serious willingness to carry out this project of reforming the system.
The country lacks elites who have at their disposal solid militant bases with the dream of an operational state with strong institutions and of a state at the service of its citizens. On the contrary, the country is rich in elites who consider that the state is a provider of loot that needs to be shared. This is how, from one election to another, society’s distrust towards the elites is growing. Officially only 41% of the 22 million registered voters participated in the elections. It is in this context that I no longer discuss abstention or de-politicization, but rather a structural rupture between the elites who have access to all the privileges and the Iraqi society that is completely abandoned, frustrated, marginalised, and left to its own devices.
Adel Bakawan is director of the Centre Français de Recherche sur l’Irak (CFRI, French Centre for Research on Iraq).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.
Sadr’s remarks come after Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia were accused of an attempt to kill outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi by armed drone on Nov. 7.
The militias are disputing the result of an October general election that handed them a crushing defeat and have also staged sit-ins in Baghdad which turned violent this month.
Sadr, who commands his own militia but opposes all foreign influence in Iraq, including that of Iran, is seen as the main Shi’ite rival of the paramilitaries Tehran has backed.
“You must step back in order to regain the trust of the people,” Sadr said in a statement delivered to news cameras from his base in the southern holy city of Najaf.
“What you’re doing right now will tarnish your history and increase your alienation from the people.”
Sadr did not refer explicitly to recent events, but addressed his message to what he called the losing parties in Iraq’s election.
He called on Iraq’s state paramilitary grouping the Popular Mobilisation Forces, which is dominated by the Iran-aligned factions, to purge “undisciplined elements” and for non-state armed groups to dissolve themselves and lay down their weapons.
Sadr will likely have a big say in the formation of the next Iraqi government, a prospect that worries his main rivals the Iran-backed groups, according to Iraqi officials and independent analysts.
“If you want to participate in forming the next government, you must hold those corrupt among you to account,” he added. REUTERS
China might one day be able to launch a surprise nuclear attack on the United States, the second highest-ranking American military officer has warned as he shed new details of Beijing’s hypersonic weapons test in July, which sent a missile around the world at more than five times the speed of sound.
“They launched a long-range missile,” General John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told CBS News while commenting on China’s hypersonic weapons test on July 27.
“It went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided all the way back to China, that impacted a target in China,” he said on Tuesday.
When asked if the missile hit the target, Hyten said, “Close enough.”
China has denied that it carried out a hypersonic missile test, saying it was testing a reusable spacecraft.
Though the Chinese weapon missed its target by several kilometers, according to the Financial Times, the test marked the first time any country had sent a hypersonic weapon fully around the Earth.
Hypersonic weapons travel at more than five times the speed of sound, making it difficult for radars to detect.
Combined with hundreds of new missile silos China is building, Hyten believes China could one day have the capability to launch a surprise nuclear attack on the US.
“They look like a first-use weapon,” Hyten told CBS News. “That’s what those weapons look like to me.”
Hyten said that in the last five years, China has carried out hundreds of hypersonic tests, while the US has conducted just nine. China has already deployed one medium-range hypersonic weapon, while the US is still a few years from fielding its first one, according to Hyten.
China, which confirmed the test on October 18, tried to downplayed it, saying it was “routine test” and emphasised that “it’s not missile, but a spacecraft.”
“As we understand, this was a routine test of spacecraft to verify technology of spacecraft’s reusability. It is of great significance to reducing the cost of using spacecraft and providing a convenient and cheap way for mankind’s two-way transportation in the peaceful use of space. Several companies around the world have conducted similar tests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in response to questions last month.
“After separating from the spacecraft before its return, the supporting devices will burn up when it’s falling in the atmosphere and the debris will fall into the high seas. China will work with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space for the benefit of mankind,” Zhao said on October 18.
When asked to clarify whether China tested a hypersonic missile or a spacecraft, Zhao emphasised, “As I just said, it’s not missile, but a spacecraft.”
The Pentagon warned in a report released earlier this month that China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and may have 1,000 nuclear warheads by the end of the decade.
Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has repeatedly called China the US military’s “pacing challenge”.
On Wednesday, Lloyd said that the US was focused on “robust capability across the board” rather than one specific capability such as hypersonic weapons.
The Global Times, a Chinese-state run media outlet, dismissed American concerns about a possible nuclear attack, arguing that officials were hyping up the possibility to hurt Beijing.
Tensions between China and the United States have been mounting and officials have been raising concerns about China’s military buildup. China’s testing of a new hypersonic weapon of the summer should create a sense of “urgency,” according to a top Pentagonofficial, who warned Beijing could soon launch a “surprise” nuclear attack against the United States.
The Global Times editorial board accused the United States of creating an “unprecedented atmosphere of panic” toward China’s development of nuclear weapons.
The Global Times pointed to the comment John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made about the potential for China to launch a nuclear attack, as well as, claims about its nuclear weapons buildup and a recent Pentagon report.
The report, released in early November, warned China was rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and could have 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. Last year’s report estimated that China could have up to 400 warheads within a decade.
“The nuclear expansion that the [People’s Republic of China] is undertaking is certainly very concerning to us,” a senior defense official told reporters. “It’s one thing to observe what they’re doing, but they haven’t really explained why they’re doing it.”
During his interview with CBS News, Hyten said China launched a long-range missile that circled the world, dropped a hypersonic vehicle and returned to China. When asked if it hit its target, Hyten said it got “close enough.”
“I think it probably should create a sense of urgency,” Hyten said.
The Global Times criticized the American media for reporting on comments from officials about China’s nuclear capabilities and the potential for the two sides to hold discussions on strategic stability. The goal, according to the Global Times, is to “promote public pressure” on China to enter into discussions.
The editorial board noted tensions over Taiwan’s fight for independence and said there is a “serious possibility” of war breaking out. A U.S. government agency recently found China has or will soon have the ability to invade Taiwan, an island whose reunification Beijing sees as critical to the country’s future. The United States could be pulled into a war between Taiwan and China, a fact that the Global Times believes fuels the need for Beijing to have a significant nuclear arsenal.
“When the Taiwan question is resolved and the U.S. truly accepts China’s rise instead of threatening China’s core interests, China’s strategic need to strengthen national security through increased nuclear deterrence would be greatly reduced,” the Global Times op-ed said.
China is believed to be building missile silos and accelerating its nuclear programme; the UK has increased the cap on its overall nuclear weapon stockpile; and the US is undertaking a multibillion-dollar nuclear modernisation programme.Are we seeing a new weapons race, and what is nuclear-free New Zealand doing to cool the situation? National Correspondent Lucy Craymer reports.
A worrying global trend is emerging that indicates disarmament is stalling and in some cases countries are now accumulating more weapons. In 2020, despite an overall decline in the number of nuclear warheads, more have been deployed with operational forces, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) year book.
Furthermore, earlier this month a US Pentagon report found China was accelerating its nuclear armament programme and is on track to have 1000 warheads by 2030. This follows the release of satellite imagery of north-central China that shows, according to analysts, the appearance of at least three vast missile silo fields under construction. China has not confirmed the facilities or increases in arsenal.
The build-up is against a backdrop of geopolitical competition. Rivalry between the US and China continues to simmer; tensions between China and India are getting worse, with skirmishes reported at their border; and the relationship between India and Pakistan remains volatile.
“The risk of nuclear warfare is as bad – if not worse – now than at any time since the Cuban Missile crisis,” says Phil Twyford, Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control.
Renewed interest in nuclear weapons heralds a shift away from a period little more than a decade ago when US President Barack Obama spoke publicly about his deep interest in reducing nuclear arms, and broadly there was an appetite for disarmament.
Maria Rost Rublee, associate professor in international relations at Monash University says in the past decade geopolitics have shifted. Now, the likes of Russia are relying more heavily on their nuclear stockpiles for military security.
“What’s different today [from during the Cold War] is that we don’t just have two countries facing off, we have a lot more countries with nuclear weapons, including countries that might be more willing to use them,” Rublee says.
However, Russia and the US continue to own over 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
The US and Russia had more warheads in operation in January 2021 than a year earlier, even though they had reduced the overall number of weapons they had, according to SIPRI, an independent institute that does research in disarmament.
This year, the UK reversed a policy of reducing the country’s nuclear arsenal and increased the planned cap on nuclear warheads; and there are reports that India, Pakistan and North Korea are expanding their capabilities.
Alicia Sanders-Zakre of ICAN, a non-government organisation focused on the abolition of nuclear weapons, says the increased risk from nuclear weapons is not solely about numbers. Increased use of cyberwarfare and artificial intelligence can result in miscalculations, she says.
Nuclear technologies and arsenals are also increasingly sophisticated, making them an even more dangerous prospect in an unstable geopolitical climate.
China, for example, made headlines last month with a suspected test of a hypersonic weapons system. These weapons are low-flying, fast and easily manoeuvrable, which enables them to get around traditional missile defence systems.
Why is a build-up happening? Are we heading into a new Cold War?
Indications that China is increasing its arsenal are seen as a possible shift away from its cautious approach to weapons. Unlike other countries with nuclear weapons, China says it would never initiate a nuclear weapons strike, instead the weapons are used as a deterrent.
Deterrence theory states that nuclear weapons are intended to deter other states from attacking with their nuclear weapons, through the promise of retaliation and possibly mutually assured destruction.
Chinese state-owned Global Times said any increase in weapons would be due to the comprehensive strategic threat the US poses and a shift in what a minimum deterrence looks like. “Our nuclear forces must become so powerful that the elites in Washington will tremble in fear at the mere thought of imposing a nuclear deterrent on China,” its August 7 article said.
Tanya Ogilvie-White, senior research adviser at the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network, says China’s decision to expand its nuclear arsenal is a worrying development. But, she says, it’s partly a response to the nuclear modernisation going on in the likes of the US and Russia. Beijing has refrained from fielding some of the riskiest nuclear weapons, such as nuclear-capable cruise missiles, even though it has the capability to do so.
Ogilvie-White adds there has been a shift recently in the thinking of some decision makers globally, who now think actually firing a small nuclear weapon could de-escalate a situation as it would show a willingness to use such weapons.
“It’s deeply troubling,” says Ogilvie-White, who studies nuclear deterrence. “You don’t need many nuclear weapons to cause total havoc and kill millions of people. The idea that you could use them to win wars is a dangerous fallacy.”
Nuclear weapons levels globally do remain well below those seen during the Cold War.
The UK Government says that it needs to maintain nuclear weapons as a deterrent because the threats facing the country are increasing in scale, diversity and complexity, and abandoning nuclear weapons would put the country at greater risk.
How does Aukus fit within this?
Australia, the US and the UK have announced a new strategic partnership. As part of the agreement, Australia will get the technology required to build nuclear-powered submarines.
These are not nuclear weapons. However, it does raise concerns. Accidents happen. An increase in nuclear-propelled submarines boosts the risk that something could go wrong. It also raises questions about whether other countries could reach agreements for similar types of hardware.
Angela Woodward, who is deputy executive director of non-profit Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (Vertic), says while the treaty applies only to those who sign it, it makes nuclear weapons less acceptable and will hopefully create pressure in the same way treaty bans on chemical weapons and cluster munitions did.
According to an ICAN report, 127 financial institutions stopped investing in nuclear weapons this year, many due to the pressure that came about as a result of the treaty.
“The power of this treaty is only just starting to be realised,” says Woodward, who specialises in arms control and disarmament.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remains in place and is the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament. And in March, Russia and the US agreed to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years, keeping in place the treaty’s verifiable limits on the deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
However, Woodward notes that nuclear states are “interpreting their disarmament obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty very widely”.
New Zealand remains globally respected on nuclear issues due to its strong, and long-standing, stance against such weapons. Analysts say that New Zealand needs to continue to add its voice to concerns about non-proliferation and to speak out against activities by all nuclear-powered countries.
Twyford says he also believes New Zealand needs to continue to call out the nuclear weapon states for what they’re doing and not allow the diplomatic niceties or friendships and alliances to mute our voice. We do this, he says, in both multinational and bilateral forums.
“We are trying to build a renewed commitment to disarm. We’ve got to get out of this downward spiral.”