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.
IRGC commander Hossein Salami speaking on Monday in Tehran.
Author: Iran International Newsroom
One day after the White House warned Iran against harming any Americans, the commander of IRGC said Monday that revenge for the killing of Qasem Soleimani is not yet complete.
In a ceremony in Tehran, Hossein Salami without referring to the warning by US national security advisor Jake Sullivan, said, “We have taken part of the revenge and part of it is still unfulfilled, and everyone certainly knows it. American officials should know that they cannot conduct aggression against a nation and avoid revenge.”
General Soleimani, who was Iran’s top military and intelligence operator in the region organizing militant proxy forces, was killed by a decision of the United States in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3, 2020. Iran retaliated by firing ballistic missiles at bases in Iraq hosting US troops five days later.
On Saturday, Iran issued a new list of Americans it considers responsible for Soleimani’s killing after senior officials had repeatedly mentioned revenge all week, on the second anniversary of his death.
Sullivan in his Sunday statement warned Tehran of “severe consequences” if it attacks Americans. “We will work with our allies and partners to deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran,” he said. “Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 51 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences.”
Salami on Monday did not mention Sullivan’s statement. In fact, government-controlled media and officials were silent Monday morning, ignoring the White House warning. But Salami’s explicit remarks about unfinished revenge seems to be an indirect response to Sullivan’s warning.
In his speech, Salami also claimed the Islamic Republic has succeeded in uniting “Muslims in the region” against the United States. Often when Iranian officials use the word ‘Muslims’ the underlying meaning is Shiites, not necessarily Sunnis, who do not regard Iran’s clerics as their religious leaders.
Except the Palestinian Hamas, most of Iran’s allies and proxies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen are Shiites or sects close to Iran’s brand of Shiism.
The IRGC commander also took credit for strengthening the Lebanese Hezbollah and “arming Palestine”, which was able “to fight big wars with Israel.”
Overall, Salami’s remarks included more religious metaphors than ever before, abundant praise for “martyrs” and “jihad”. He said the battle against “arrogance”, a term used mainly to refer to the United States, has gone beyond Iran’s borders and has united Muslims.
In an implicit reference to Tehran’s influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Salami said, “The Islamic revolution has conquered large expanses of territory and many hearts and the enemy is in retreat.”
The step, which could be an indication that planning for an attack continues, comes as the number of Russian troops at the border has remained steady in recent weeks, despite U.S. expectations of a surge.
WASHINGTON — The number of Russian troops at Ukraine’s border has remained steady in recent weeks, despite U.S. intelligence predictions of a surge, but American officials say that President Vladimir V. Putin has begun taking steps to move military helicopters into place, a possible sign that planning for an attack continues.
American officials had expected additional Russian troops to stream toward the Ukrainian border in December and early January, building toward a force of 175,000.
While troop movements have slowed, there are still 100,000 military personnel near the border and now the Russians have positioned additional attack aircraft there, American officials said. Attack and transport helicopters, along with ground attack fighter jets, would be a critical Russian advantage, should Mr. Putin decide to invade Ukraine.
U.S. officials say the Russian president’s window for an invasion is limited, dictated by temperatures that will freeze the ground — allowing for the easy movement of heavy vehicles and equipment — before a spring thaw, which could begin by March, creates a muddy quagmire.
But a relatively mild winter has slowed the ground’s freezing, and Mr. Putin’s deadline for committing his forces has slipped further toward the spring, officials say. The hard winter freeze that typically comes to Ukraine by January has not happened in many areas of the country. As long as the ground remains muddy, senior administration officials said, Mr. Putin might be forced to push back a ground offensive until February at the earliest.
To get a better sense of possible conditions this year, the Biden administration has enlisted meteorologists to look more closely at the likely weather in Ukraine in the coming weeks, according to a U.S. official.
The officials interviewed for this article requested anonymity to discuss sensitive and classified assessments of Russian military movements, along with American efforts to learn about those deployments.
The United States has been regularly flying Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic-eavesdropping planes over Ukraine since Dec. 27. The planes allow American intelligence operatives to listen to Russian ground commanders’ communications. The Air Force is also flying E-8 JSTARS ground-surveillance planes to track the Russian troop buildup and the movements of the forces.
The United States is particularly interested in indications that Russia may deploy any of its tactical nuclear weapons to the border, a move that Russian officials have suggested could be an option.
The intelligence agencies have told administration officials that while the Russians have continued planning an invasion, they do not believe Mr. Putin has decided whether to begin an incursion. For their part, Russian officials reiterated on Monday that they do not plan to invade Ukraine.
A fierce diplomatic push to give Mr. Putin face-saving alternatives to military action began this week in Geneva, where Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led a U.S. delegation for talks with her Russian counterpart, Sergei A. Ryabkov, and other Russian officials.
But Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told reporters at the State Department on Friday that “actual progress is going to be very difficult to make, if not impossible, in an environment of escalation by Russia.” And after eight hours of meetings with the Russians, Ms. Sherman told reporters that such de-escalation had not occurred and that the talks had amounted merely to “a discussion, a better understanding of each other and each other’s priorities.”
Mr. Putin has made several demands, including that NATO formally pledge never to admit Ukraine and Georgia as members, that U.S. and NATO officials call nonstarters. Instead, the United States is dangling more modest offers, like assurances that American missiles will not be placed in Ukrainian territory — something Washington has never seriously contemplated.
Understand Russia’s Relationship With the West
The tension between the regions is growing and Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly willing to take geopolitical risks and assert his demands.
Despite publicly expressing uncertainty about Mr. Putin’s intentions, U.S. officials have assessed that there is little likelihood that he will back down from what they have described as maximalist positions. The Biden administration has promised allies that it will not make any offers to Russia that they do not support, taking off the table any sort of unilateral troop withdrawal from Eastern Europe or pledge not to further integrate Ukraine with the rest of Europe.
Mr. Putin has massed his forces along Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine, where for nearly eight years he has supported a pro-Russian insurgency that has left up to 14,000 people dead.
In early December, American intelligence agencies predicted that Mr. Putin was planning to gather as many as 175,000 troops for a potential incursion into Ukraine.
Weeks later, Mr. Putin withdrew some 10,000 troops near Ukraine. But American officials said those troops were not part of the force that Mr. Putin appeared to be gathering for a potential invasion in January or February.
A brewing conflict. Antagonism between Ukraine and Russia has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, annexing Crimea and whipping up a rebellion in the east. A tenuous cease-fire was reached in 2015, but peace has been elusive.
A spike in hostilities. Russia has recently been building up forces near its border with Ukraine, and the Kremlin’s rhetoric toward its neighbor has hardened. Concern grew in late October, when Ukraine used an armed drone to attack a howitzer operated by Russian-backed separatists.
Ominous warnings. Russia called the strike a destabilizing act that violated the cease-fire agreement, raising fears of a new intervention in Ukraine that could draw the United States and Europe into a new phase of the conflict.
The Kremlin’s position. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has increasingly portrayed NATO’s eastward expansion as an existential threat to his country, said that Moscow’s military buildup was a response to Ukraine’s deepening partnership with the alliance.
A measured approach. President Biden has said he is seeking a stable relationship with Russia, though tension has been rising. So far, his administration is focusing on maintaining a dialogue with Moscow, while seeking to develop deterrence measures in concert with European countries.
Still, intelligence officials thought there would be more of a troop buildup throughout December. A senior administration official said the Russian deployments were continuing, but at a slower pace than in early December.
Currently, Russia has just under 60 battalion tactical groups on the ground, or somewhere between 85,000 and 100,000 troops, according to American officials. Those troops have conducted exercises and drills, demonstrating that the Russian forces are at their highest levels of readiness.
In addition to building up aviation assets, the Russian government has ordered in more units specializing in logistics. While aviation assets would be critical to protecting ground troops during the invasion, the logistics units would be needed to support the ground forces in the event Mr. Putin orders his forces across the border.
More than 150 U.S. military advisers are in Ukraine, trainers who have for years worked out of the training ground near Lviv, in the country’s west, far from the front lines. The current group includes Special Operations forces, mostly Army Green Berets, as well as National Guard trainers from Florida’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Military advisers from about a dozen allied countries are also in Ukraine, U.S. officials said. Several NATO countries, including Britain, Canada, Lithuania and Poland, have regularly sent training forces to the country.
In the event of a full-scale Russian invasion, the United States intends to move its military trainers out of the country quickly. But it is possible that some Americans could stay to advise Ukrainian officials in Kyiv, the capital, or provide front-line support, a U.S. official said.
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Pentagon officials have warned their Russian counterparts that they need to de-escalate the situation, because an invasion would not end well for Moscow. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke bluntly to Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of the general staff, on Dec. 22. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III followed that with more diplomatic comments to Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, on Thursday.
On Monday, General Milley spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, about the Russian troop presence and the security situation.
There is still no consensus within the administration, much less the alliance, on how or when to support an insurgency in Ukraine should Russia conduct a full-scale invasion, expand its presence in the Donbas region or some other scenario, according to a senior administration official. Officials in the Biden administration are intensely debating what the available options might be depending on which situations play out.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
Mohammed al-Halbusi is Iraq’s speaker of parliament for a second term despite opposition from Shiite parties aligned with Iran.
This picture taken on Sept. 26, 2021, shows an electoral campaign billboard ahead of Iraq’s early legislative elections depicting current parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi, in the city of Ramadi. – SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty ImagesHassan Ali Ahmed@hassanaIiahmed
Mohammed al-Halbusi is Iraq’s speaker of parliament for a second term despite opposition from Shiite parties aligned with Iran.
Iraqi electionsJanuary 10, 2022
BAGHDAD — The first session of Iraq’s new parliament was held on Jan. 9. In that session, new parliament members voted that Mohammed al-Halbusi will serve a second term as speaker of the Iraqi parliament.
From the start of the day, different party members showed their strengths via different methods.
Independent members representing the Tishreen protest movement made their way to parliament in tuk-tuks. The three-wheeled vehicle became a symbol of the protesters during the 2019 October demonstrations, eventually representing the entire Tishreen movement.
Sunni members from both rival groups, the Taqaddom Alliance and the Azm Alliance, gathered around for a photo op before the start of the session. Kurds and other minority members wore traditional clothing to the session.
The strongest presence was that of Sadrists, who tied white fabric on their shoulders symbolizing burial shrouds as a means to send a message to their rival Shiite parties that they intend to fight to the death.
Shiite parties were sharply divided after the elections. Sadrists (the biggest winners) won 74 seats and are calling for a majority government. Their Shiite rivals — including among others the Fatah Alliance (affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units), Ammar al-Hakim’s Hikma bloc, Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and Haider al-Abadi’s Nasr coalition — are calling for a consensual government. They all gathered under the name of the Coordination Framework with a total of 59 seats.
The main reason behind the dispute between the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework is that the former wants to form the government with its Kurdish and Sunni allies and without other Shiite parties. But Framework members, who lost the elections to the Sadrists, want to remain in power and receive a share of the new government.
Coordination Framework members strongly objected to the election results as they realized that Muqtada al-Sadr’s rise to power would eliminate them from the government. Hence, they claimed election fraud and pushed their followers to protest at the Green Zone.
Protesters set up camp for two months, demanding the annulment of election results and a new election. The protests turned violent a few times, but protesters quit and went home as they realized that their demands would not be met.
Having said that, the first session of Iraq’s new parliament wasn’t calm at all. The Coordination Framework tried to prevent Sadr from pushing the wheels for the majority government.
Sadr had brokered a deal with the Sunnis and Kurds. Less than a week ago, he received Sunni Taqaddom party leader Halbousi at his home in Najaf. This is while Sadr’s delegation traveled to Erbil to court Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) votes.
An anonymous source from Sadr’s political office told Al-Monitor that “Sadr has already built his coalition and has secured enough votes to form a majority government.”
Although Sadr has 74 seats, the abovementioned alliances provide him with enough votes to form a majority of 165 in the parliament, which is required for electing the parliament speaker and prime minister. Halbousi has 37 seats. The KDP controls 31 seats, which brings the number of Sadr’s coalition to 142. Sadr also has been granted the support of the Azm Alliance led by Khamis al-Khanjar, which provides him with 14 more seats. Sadr secured the remaining seats on Nov. 25 when he met with independent members who had won 43 seats.
Yesterday’s vote was a clear indication that Sadr’s majority government is moving ahead. Halbousi has received 200 votes against his rival, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was nominated by the Coordination Framework.
Members of the Framework left the hall prior to the vote as they felt Mashhadani would not win. Mashhadani himself also tried to postpone the session for another day, but after he faced objections from Sadrists and their allies, he left for the hospital, claiming he was attacked by Sadrists.
This did not stop the session, and Halbousi was finally elected. Sadrist parliament member Hakim al-Zamli and KDP parliament member Shakhawan Abdullah were, respectively, elected as first and second deputy speakers of parliament.
The next phase is to elect the president; this requires two-thirds of parliament members. But the main challenge will be electing the prime minister, which takes place after the president is elected.
On Jan. 7, current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi traveled to meet Sadr at the cleric’s home in al-Hananah district in Najaf.
In response to Halbousi’s victory, Kadhimi tweeted, “A historic and great day for Iraq, and an opportunity for all to unite to build a strong state.”
Iran reportedly has sought to sway Kurdish and Sunni parties to avoid their aligning with Sadr, fearing that such an alliance would undercut the influence of those parties aligned with Tehran.
Their efforts seem to be so far unsuccessful.
In such circumstances, the majority government looks to be already set, and for the first time after 2003, there will be a majority government and a strong opposition in parliament led by Iran’s allies.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), in a report by Michael Knights and Crispin Smith, two of its senior analysts, called the al-Nujaba Movement “the most influential group” that led attacks against the United States on Iraqi and Syrian soil.
According to the authors of this analytical report, the al-Nujaba Islamic Resistance Movement, in addition to participating in irregular strikes on American logistics convoys, is the main organizer of drone strikes on the Baghdad Diplomatic Security Centre (BDSC) [Victory Base Complex] near the Baghdad International Airport.
The American think tank added, “Similar drones have targeted the leadership locations of the coalition forces in the Kurdistan Region, with the al-Nujaba Movement being the main culprit. It is also expected that the movement will continue to attack American interests in northern Iraq.”
The Washington Institute then referred to the targeting of American bases in eastern Syria, “It is believed that al-Nujaba’s rocket cells were responsible for these attacks, which were carried out by launching rockets and mortars.”
The report cites a rocket attack on the Zilkan Base in the Turkish-occupied Iraqi Kurdistan Region as another example of military operations by the al-Nujaba Islamic Resistance Movement.
According to the website of the Washington Institute, as the New Year and the anniversary of the [martyrdom] of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis arrive, other Iraqi Resistance groups have joined the al-Nujaba to attack new targets, including the al-Tanf coalition base on the Syrian border, the Ayn al-Asad Airbase in al-Anbar governorate and American forces stationed west of the Tigris River and in central Baghdad.
Analysts at this American institute have described Shaykh Akram al-Kaabi, the secretary-general of the al-Nujaba Islamic Resistance Movement, as “the most trusted person for the Islamic Republic of Iran among the commanders of the Iraqi Resistance” due to his tough stance, avoidance of political disputes and constant efforts to expel the occupying forces.
Source: Website of the representative office of al-Nujaba in Iran
China is on course to have four aircraft carriers including a new-fangled nuclear vessel in operation by the mid-2020s
by Gabriel Honrada January 10, 2022
China is on track to have at least four aircraft carriers by the mid-2020s, with its fourth one likely to be nuclear-powered. Work on China’s fourth carrier began in 2021, with China’s Central Military Commission studying a proposal by China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) to make it nuclear fuelled.
Compared to their conventionally-powered counterparts, nuclear-powered carriers can stay at sea for much longer, carry twice the amount of aircraft fuel, 30% more weapons, and 300,000 cubic feet of additional space, which would otherwise be taken by air intakes and exhaust trunks. Nuclear power is also critical for power-intensive aircraft catapults, weapons, sensor and onboard computers.
China has also been working on key technologies for its nuclear-powered carrier. In 2019, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) invited bids for a contract to build a nuclear-powered vessel as an experimental platform to test marine nuclear propulsion. In 2018, China announced plans to build its own nuclear-powered icebreaker with Russian technical assistance.
China is also working on Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS), which use a surge of electricity to generate a strong electromagnetic field to launch aircraft. It is reportedly easier to operate, gentler on airplanes and capable of launching more planes into the air in a shorter period than conventional steam catapults.
The impetus for China’s nuclear-powered carrier program can be traced to 2018, when CSSC announced that such an asset would help the People’s Liberation Army–Navy (PLA-N) realize its strategic transformation and combat-readiness capability in deep waters and open oceans by 2025.
Presently, China operates two conventionally-powered carriers, the Type 001 Liaoning, which was known as the ex-Soviet Varyag and commissioned in 2012, and the fully indigenous Type 002 Shandong, which was commissioned in 2017. A third conventional carrier, the Type 003, is currently under construction and likely to enter service in 2024.
A Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center analysis posits that China’s growing carrier force, alongside its developments in other military technologies, particularly anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, has raised the possibility of the US losing a limited war over Taiwan.Commissioning ceremony for China’s new aircraft carrier the Shandong, Sanya, Hainan, China, December 17, 2019. Photo: Facebook
As a result, the US could be forced into escalating a limited conflict over Taiwan into a larger regional war. According to the analysis, a Chinese attack on Taiwan would most likely succeed before the US could move enough assets into the area.
Even if the US manages to move enough of its forces to assist Taiwan, they would not be sufficient to affect the outcome. That said, China now has the capabilities to deliver a fait accompli in the Taiwan Strait before the US decides how to respond.
China’s carrier fleet can complement its land-based fighter aviation in establishing air superiority over the Taiwan Strait. In addition, these carriers can be deployed off Taiwan’s eastern coast, allowing for strikes on Taiwan’s defenses stationed on its mountainous eastern flank.
China’s carriers would operate in a secure umbrella, defended against Taiwanese or US attacks by DF-21D carrier killer missiles, carrier-based fighters, surface warships and submarines.
Taiwan’s defense is based on a porcupine strategy of asymmetric defense to prolong a potential conflict until US forces intervene. As such, Taiwan would be heavily defended with anti-ship missiles, anti-tank missiles and air defenses to hold out long enough for US intervention.
However, Taiwan cannot hope to hold out indefinitely without US assistance. Hence, its defensive posture is premised on a US intervention, which the US has not been clear about due to its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan, which both mollifies China and prompts greater efforts from Taiwan to harden its own defenses.
The question facing Taiwan and the US is not whether they can fight together, but how they can do so despite policy constraints and China’s growing might. The launch of a nuclear-powered fourth aircraft carrier will tilt that military balance even more in China’s favor.
- By ROBERT BURNS AP National Security Writer
- Jan 3, 2022
FILE – This image taken with a slow shutter speed on Oct. 2, 2019, and provided by the U.S. Air Force shows an unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile test launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Major shifts in U.S. nuclear weapons policy seem much less likely, and while President Joe Biden may insist on certain adjustments, momentum toward a historic departure from the Trump administration’s policy appears to have stalled. The outlook will be clearer when the Biden administration completes its so-called nuclear posture review – an internal relook at the numbers, kinds and purposes of weapons in the nuclear arsenal, as well as the policies that govern their potential use. The results could be made public as early as January.
FILE – This undated file photo shows the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. Major shifts in U.S. nuclear weapons policy seem much less likely, and while President Joe Biden may insist on certain adjustments, momentum toward a historic departure from the Trump administration’s policy appears to have stalled. The outlook will be clearer when the Biden administration completes its so-called nuclear posture review – an internal relook at the numbers, kinds and purposes of weapons in the nuclear arsenal, as well as the policies that govern their potential use. The results could be made public as early as January./
WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House nearly a year ago seemed to herald a historic shift toward less U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons and possibly a shrinking of their numbers. Even an American “no first use” pledge — a promise to never again be the first to use a nuclear weapon — seemed possible.
Now, major shifts in U.S. nuclear weapons policy seem much less likely, and while Biden may insist on certain adjustments, momentum toward a historic departure from the Trump administration’s policy appears to have stalled.
The outlook will be clearer when the Biden administration completes its so-called nuclear posture review — an internal relook at the numbers, kinds and purposes of weapons in the nuclear arsenal, as well as the policies that govern their potential use. The results could be made public as early as January.
The biggest unknown is how forcefully Biden will weigh in on these questions, based on White House calculations of the political risk. During his years as vice president, Biden talked of new directions in nuclear policy. But heightened concerns about China and Russia would seem to improve the political leverage of Republicans seeking to portray such change as a gift to nuclear adversaries.
Russia became a more urgent focus of Biden’s attention after President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks sent an estimated 100,000 troops to positions near Ukraine’s border and demanded U.S. security guarantees. Biden and Putin discussed Ukraine by phone on Thursday,and senior American and Russian officials are scheduled to follow up with more detailed talks in Geneva on Jan. 9-10.
Tom Z. Collina, policy director at Ploughshares Fund, an advocate for nuclear disarmament, says the China and Russia problems complicate the politics of Biden’s nuclear review but should not stop him from acting to reduce nuclear dangers.
“We do not want a new nuclear arms race with either nation and the only way to prevent that is with diplomacy,” Collina said. “We must remember the main lesson we learned in the Cold War with Russia — the only way to win an arms race is not to run.”https://www.wvnews.com/tncms/block/1626466/?disableTNStatsTracker=1
In March, in what the White House called interim national security guidance, Biden said China and Russia had changed “the distribution of power across the world.”
“Both Beijing and Moscow have invested heavily in efforts meant to check U.S. strengths and prevent us from defending our interests and allies around the world,” the guidance said. Biden pledged to counter with actions to strength the United States at home, repair its alliances abroad and elevate the role of diplomacy. Nuclear weapons were mentioned only briefly.
“We will take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy,” the guidance said without offering details, while also ensuring a safe and reliable U.S. nuclear force and seeking arms control opportunities.
Since then, worries about China and Russia have only increased. Private satellite imagery revealed last summer that China was building large numbers of new underground silos for nuclear missiles, and in November a Pentagon report said China may quadruple the size of its nuclear stockpile by 2030.
“Because of what China has done, it has really changed the complexion of this review,” says Robert Soofer, who was the Pentagon’s top nuclear policy official during the Trump administration and led a 2018 nuclear review.
“Rather than it being a review that examines reducing the role of nuclear weapons and even eliminating a leg of the triad, now they’ve been obliged to basically stay the course and determine how to tweak it at the margins.”https://www.wvnews.com/tncms/block/1626466/?disableTNStatsTracker=1
In June, even before the latest Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, the Pentagon’s policy chief, Colin Kahl, said the outlook for U.S. nuclear policy was colored not only by China’s nuclear ambitions but also by “real anxiety” among U.S. allies in Europe over Russian defense and nuclear policy.
“And so, obviously Russia is the wolf closest to the shed as it relates to the nuclear issue, but close behind is China’s desire to grow their nuclear arsenal, both quantitatively and qualitatively,” Kahl said June 23 at a nuclear policy conference sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Kahl did not preview the policy review outcome, but he said it is intended to fit inside a broader defense strategy, which also is to be published early in 2022.
The Pentagon has not publicly discussed details of the nuclear review, but the administration seems likely to keep the existing contours of the nuclear force — the traditional “triad” of sea-, air- and land-based weapons, which critics call overkill. It also may embrace a $1 trillion-plus modernization of that force, which was launched by the Obama administration and continued by Trump.
It’s unclear whether Biden will approve any significant change in what is called “declaratory policy,” which states the purpose of nuclear weapons and the circumstances under which they might be used.
The Obama administration, with Biden as vice president, stated in 2010 that it would “only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.” It did not define “extreme circumstances.”https://www.wvnews.com/tncms/block/1626466/?disableTNStatsTracker=1
Eight years later, the Trump administration restated the Obama policy but got more specific. “Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks. Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”
Some believed that Biden as president would go a different direction, following his own advice on a “no first use” pledge. He said in a January 2017 speech: “Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats, it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary, or make sense.”
But some argue that China and Russia this year have changed “today’s threats,” perhaps keeping Biden on a cautious path.
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