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.
China broke its silence on Russia’s invasion to say it is ‘gravely concerned’ about Ukraine’s nuclear plants after Russia attacked one
Fri, March 4, 2022, 4:31 AM·2 min read
- Russian forces attacked Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Friday.
- It prompted China to say it was “gravely concerned” about Ukraine’s nuclear safety.
- The comments mark a break in China’s apparent hesitancy to condemn Russia.
China broke its silence on Ukraine to say it is “gravely concerned” about the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear plants after Russia attacked one on Friday.
Russian forces attacked and later seized Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early Friday morning. Ukrainian officials said the attack caused a fire that was later subdued, and that radiation levels were stable.
The attack prompted the Chinese foreign ministry to say it was concerned about Ukraine’s nuclear safety and to urge “calm and restraint” by Russian forces, marking a departure from China’s overall avoidance to comment on Russia’s actions in Ukraine so far.
“China attaches great importance to nuclear safety and is gravely concerned about the safety and security situation of nuclear facilities in Ukraine,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a Friday press conference.
“We will continue to closely monitor the developments of the situation, and call on relevant parties to keep calm and exercise restraint, prevent further escalation of the situation and ensure the safety of relevant nuclear facilities.”
China is one of the nine countries in the world recorded to have nuclear weapons.
Beijing has avoided outright condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin since he launched a full invasion into Ukraine.
Earlier this week, China abstained on voting at the United Nations to sanction Russia and demand the withdrawal of Russian troops. Last week, it also criticized Western nations for imposing sanctions on Russia over the invasion, saying that punishment never works.
That being said, China has appeared to distance itself from Russia in recent days.
On Monday, Wang told reporters that China and Russia were “comprehensive strategic partners of coordination” — a notable change from the Chinese foreign ministry’s announcement just last year that the two countries were “better than allies.”
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also told his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, that China “regrets” the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to a Chinese foreign ministry readout.
On February 27, three days into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, two things happened. First, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s nuclear deterrence to be put on high alert, and second, this:
Searches for the term “nuclear war” have increased rapidly since Russia’s invasion.
While experts say the move was mostly just designed as a scare tactic – a way to “remind the world he’s got a deterrent” and make sure people are “talking about [that] rather than the lack of success they are having in Ukraine,” according toBritain’s defense secretary – Putin’s orders are nevertheless a stark reminder of something that most of us haven’t thought hard about since the end of the Cold War.
Despite all but five of the world’s nations agreeing to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – also known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT – the threat of nuclear war is still out there. While the exact locations and numbers are state secrets, a handful of nations are known to possess these weapons of mass destruction – and as such, have the ability to wipe out millions with the press of a button.
But where are the world’s nuclear weapons? And approximately how many are out there?
WHO HAS THE MOST NUCLEAR WEAPONS?
Unsurprisingly, most of the world’s nukes are owned by the US and Russia. And when we say “most,” we mean “almost all”: there are around 12,700 nuclear weapons on the planet, and an estimated 90 percent – that’s nine out of every 10 nukes across the entire world – belong to one of these two countries.
That’s a legacy of the Cold War – the period of increasing tension and paranoia between the USA and the then-USSR that lasted from the late 1940s to the end of the ’80s. Both countries had been attempting to build nuclear weapons during World War II, but it was the US that succeeded first, and their bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain – so far – the only times nuclear weapons have been used in warfare.
The subsequent decades would see the two nations dramatically escalate their nuclear capabilities, with arsenals running to the tens of thousands. By the mid-1980s, there were more than 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world; the USSR topped out at just over 40,000 over the years, and US reserves made it above 31,000.
“In the 1970s and ’80s, even decision makers will say the U.S. and Soviet buildup was insane,” Richard J Burt, chief negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty under President George Bush, told the New York Times in 2019. “Both sides overbuilt without predictability.”
The result: mutually assured destruction – aptly shortened to MAD. Scientists at Los Alamos had estimated all the way back at the end of World War II that it would take “only in the neighborhood of 10 to 100” of the type of weapons held by the two adversaries to destroy the entire planet, and they had 30 to 40 thousand. Each. Both had also developed mechanisms to fire these nuclear weapons even after sustaining an attack themselves.
In short, the policy became: you won’t nuke me, because then I’ll nuke you.
“Donald Brennan …[coined] the acronym MAD to ridicule the idea that in a nuclear war, or even a large conventional conflict, each side should be prepared to destroy the other’s cities and society,” explained the late political scientist Robert Jervis in Foreign Policy back in 2009.
“Of course, this objective was not sensible, but MAD proponents argued that was the point: The outcome would be so dreadful that both sides would be deterred from starting a nuclear war or even taking actions that might lead to it.”
NATO HAS NUKES
Current count: 6,000 – but only 500 without the US.
There are 30 countries in NATO: 28 in Europe, and two – Canada and the US – in North America. Of that total, though, only three have nuclear weapons: the UK, France, and as we’ve already seen, the US.
Compared to the third member of their nuclear NATO crew, France and the UK have pretty tiny arsenals, holding just around 290 and 225 nukes, respectively. Of course, that’s still a huge number when you consider the unimaginable destructionjust one of those weapons could unleash.
The rest of the 27 nations in NATO have no nuclear weapons at all – but that doesn’t mean they’re totally defenseless: a handful of countries throughout the alliance house an estimated 100 US nukes as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing program.
These weapons are held physically in Germany or Italy, for example, and guarded by US Air Force personnel, but it’s the host country’s air force that can deploy them in the event that certain world leaders decide to, you know … murder everything.
CHINA’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND POLICY
Current count: 350.
You don’t often hear much about China’s nuclear weapons – which is strange, because they’ve been around for more than half a century now. The first nuclear weapons test in the country occurred all the way back in 1964, after close to a decade of collaboration with USSR scientists.
Today, China is believed to have the third-largest arsenal of the world’s five nuclear states, and some top US defense experts think it’s going to grow rapidly over the coming decade.
That hopefully won’t increase the existential threat from China, however – it is, after all, the only country with nuclear weapons to have committed “not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States or nuclear-weapon-free zones at any time or under any circumstances,” and “not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstance.”
Instead, experts on Chinese policy hope this is a defensive move, perhaps reflecting a growing unease with the US. Chinese President Xi Jinping is “ensuring that China can withstand a first strike from the U.S. and penetrate U.S. missile defenses with whatever Chinese nuclear weapons survive,” James Acton, a co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Atlantic.
But “I think China’s development of its regional forces is much more concerning to me and potentially offensively oriented,” he added. “I believe that China wants options to fight a limited nuclear war, which is a new element of its strategy.”
A suicide bombing at a mosque during Friday prayers in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar has killed at least 30 people, police and hospital officials said.
The death toll is expected to rise substantially as many of the injured are in critical condition, police and hospital officials said. The authorities have not said who may be behind the attack.
“We are in a state of emergency and the injured are being shifted to the hospital,” police officer Mohammad Sajjad Khan told Reuters.
Mohammad Aasim, spokesman of the Lady Reading Hospital, where victims have been brought, told Reuters they had received more than 30 bodies.
Senior police official Ijaz Khan confirmed that at least 30 had been killed and that it was a suicide bombing.
He told Reuters that two armed men arrived near the mosque on a motorcycle and were stopped for a search by police on duty outside.
Police are still determining if both had carried out suicide attacks inside the mosque.
by Sandra Erwin — March 3, 2022
Kendall: ‘When you look at it objectively, China is a much greater strategic threat than Russia is’
ORLANDO, Fla. — Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall dropped a hint about the forthcoming U.S. national security strategy:
“Russia and other threats will not be discounted, but China, with both regional and global ambitions, the resources to pursue them, and a repressive authoritarian system of government, will be our greatest strategic national security challenge,” he said March 3 at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium.
China is the United States’ main competitor in space, Kendall noted. China’s advances in anti-satellite weapons threaten the security of U.S. and allied space systems and that concern will be reflected in the Biden administration’s forthcoming national security and national defense strategies.
“I don’t want to get ahead of that process, but you can be confident that despite current events, the pacing challenge remains China,” said Kendall.
In space and defense, China had spent the past 30 years building up its capabilities, said Kendall.
Unlike Russia, China has significant financial resources and economic power, he said. “Its capabilities to pursue its ambitions are much greater than Russia’s.”
“China quite clearly has global ambitions as you see it trying to establish bases around the world,” he said. “When you look at it objectively, China is a much greater strategic threat than Russia is. Obviously with what’s happening right now you cannot ignore Russia, it’s very much a national security concern.”
With regard to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Kendall said, “In my view President Putin just made a very, very, serious miscalculation. He severely underestimated the global reaction the invasion of Ukraine would provoke, he severely underestimated the will and courage of the people of Ukraine, and he overestimated the capability of his own military.”
“I would be more inclined to put Russia in the ‘near peer’ competitor category than the pure competitor category,” Kendall said. He cautioned that the exception is Russia’s nuclear capability which remains a concern as Putin has threatened to launch tactical nukes — a smaller size category of nuclear weapons that Russia developed but has never used.
Mar 4, 2022 | Bradley Bowman, Joe Truzman, Ryan Brobst
Houthi (left) and Hezbollah forces (Credits: Maad Ali/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News/Shutterstock)
The United States sent F-22 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates on Feb. 12, following last month’s Houthi missile attack on an Emirati base hosting American troops. While the added firepower is a welcome development, such deployments will not deter the Houthis or other Iranian proxies unless the hardware is reinforced by coordinated action by the US, Israel, and Arab partners.
Recognising that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis have the same benefactor and share many of the same goals, methods, and weapons is an essential prerequisite for developing a more cooperative and effective regional response. That response should include the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE sharing technical information on Iranian weapons, especially the rockets, missiles, and drones that all three proxies operate. This could include sharing intelligence about the smuggling routes Teheran uses to deliver weapons to proxies and the financial vehicles Iran uses to fund its proxies. Israel and Gulf Arab states, along with US Central Command, should also build on recent progress related to combined military exercises. There are specific opportunities associated with the recurring Noble Dina, Blue Flag, and Iron Union exercises.
Teheran has long used terrorist groups to attack, undermine, and control other regional governments, such as with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen. Iran would rather its adversaries remain divided and distracted, attempting to respond unilaterally and without holding Teheran accountable for the actions of its proxies. To be sure, the origins and attributes of the three terrorist groups vary. They also come from various religious backgrounds, be it Sunni like Hamas, Twelver Shi’ite like Hezbollah, or Zaydi Shi’ite like the Houthis. But they share many similarities thanks to their links to the ultra-radical regime in Teheran, to which the three terrorist groups owe much of their resilience and lethality.
Consider, for example, the fact that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis are united in their desire to kill Americans, Israelis, and often other Arabs.
The Houthis have attacked US forces on at least two occasions. In 2016, the Houthis fired anti-ship cruise missiles at the USS Mason, a Navy destroyer operating in international waters near Yemen. The Houthis attacked American forces again in January by launching ballistic missiles at the Al Dhafra Air Base, which houses US forces. Notably, Hezbollah and Hamas praised that Houthi attack, while Israel condemned it and expressed support for Abu Dhabi.
Hamas and Hezbollah, both US-designated foreign terrorist organisations, have been more successful than the Houthis in killing Americans. Indeed, Hamas has killed dozens of US citizens, while Hezbollah is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans.
Israelis, of course, have suffered at the hands of Iranian-supported terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah too. That hostility is not surprising given that the founding principles or documents of both groups call for the destruction of Israel. The Houthi slogan of “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam” aligns with Hamas, Hezbollah, and their common patron, Iran.
Lately, the Houthis have been particularly prolific in attacking Saudi Arabia, more than doubling their attacks against the kingdom in the first nine months of 2021.
The longer Washington and its partners fail to effectively address the flow of Iranian weapons to the Houthis, the more they will fight and refuse to negotiate in good faith, conditions in Yemen will worsen, and the group will become a more significant regional threat. January’s Houthi missile attacks suggest this is already happening.
The weapons Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis use reveal their connections to Iran. Iran has supplied or attempted to supply each group with the 9M133 anti-tank guided missile, the C-704/802 anti-ship cruise missile, and 122mm Katyusha rockets. They also all use variants of the Iranian Ababil-T drone and the Fajr-3/5 rockets.
In May 2021, Hamas publicly thanked Iran for supplying military support during the terror group’s war with Israel earlier that month. The support enabled Hamas and other Iran-backed factions in Gaza to launch more than 4,360 rockets at Israeli civilians during the 11-day conflict. If it were not for Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system and bomb shelters, those attacks could have killed thousands of civilians.
But that barrage pales in comparison to what Hezbollah could unleash on Israel; thanks to Teheran, Hezbollah is estimated to have at least 150,000 rockets and missiles.
Iran’s additional efforts to provide its terrorist proxies with anti-ship cruise missiles are particularly worrisome. Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis each operate near vital military and commercial waterways. Hamas has recently experimented with undersea drones to threaten offshore infrastructure and vessels in the eastern Mediterranean not far from the Suez Canal. Hezbollah damaged the INS Hanit, an Israeli Navy corvette, in 2006, and the group could easily target other vessels. Houthis have already targeted shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Combined with Iran’s own capabilities in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, Teheran and its proxies can threaten several of the world’s most important maritime chokepoints.
The three terrorist groups also have shown a disdain for human rights, emulating Iran’s example. Hamas and Hezbollah commonly use torture to interrogate Palestinians and Lebanese they detain, while the Houthis maintain an extensive prison network rife with abuse. All three organisations recruit child soldiers to fight their battles, with Hamas operating military training camps for minors and Houthi commanders openly bragging about their use of children.
Revealing their disregard for other Arabs, the Houthis, Hamas, and Hezbollah each use innocent neighbours as human shields. Each group habitually hides weapons caches and offensive weapons in or near apartment buildings, schools, or other civilian areas.
During the May 2021 conflict, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which Teheran also supports, made extensive use of human shields. In one example, footage shared by pro-Hamas channels shows rockets being launched at Israel from neighbourhoods in Gaza.
By using terrorist proxies, the regime in Iran is attempting to attack its neighbours while concealing where the blow came from and escaping the consequences. Washington, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and other regional partners should recognise that these terrorist attacks all bear Teheran’s fingerprints. Better to address the puppet master together than fight its puppets alone.
Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, or FDD. Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD’s Long War Journal. Ryan Brobst is a research analyst at the Center on Military and Political Power at FDD. This article originally appeared in defenceone.com. © FDD, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.
Reuters / Mar 3, 2022, 11:54 IST
File photo: A Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber fires a cruise missile at test targets, during a military drill.
LONDON: Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the weekend that his nation’s nuclear forces should be put on high alert, raising fears that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear escalation.
Here is how Russia’s chain of command would work in the event of a nuclear weapon launch.
Who decides to launch Russian nuclear weapons?
A 2020 document, called “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence”, the Russian president takes the decision to use nuclear weapons.
A small briefcase, known as the Cheget, is kept close to the president at all times, linking him to the command and control network of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. The Cheget does not contain a nuclear launch button but rather transmits launch orders to the central military command – the General Staff.
If Putin gives the nuclear order, what happens?
The Russian General Staff has access to the launch codes and has two methods of launching nuclear warheads. It can send authorisation codes to individual weapons commanders, who would then execute the launch procedures. There is also a back-up system, known as Perimetr, which allows the General Staff to directly initiate the launch of land-based missiles, bypassing all the immediate command posts.
Did Putin’s ‘high alert’ oder make a launch more likely?
Putin said at the weekend that the nation’s nuclear forces should be put on high alert. The following day, Russia’s defence ministry announced that its nuclear missile forces had been placed on “enhanced” combat duty.
The phrase enhanced, or special, combat duty does not appear in Russia’s nuclear doctrine, leaving military experts puzzled over what it might mean.
Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, said on Twitter that the order might have activated Russia’s nuclear command and control system, essentially opening communication channels for any eventual launch order. Alternatively, he said it might just mean the Russians added staff to their nuclear facilities.
Do the Russian have rules on nuclear launches?
The 2020 doctrine presents four scenarios which might justify the use of Russian nuclear weapons:
— the use of nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction against Russia or its allies;
— data showing the launch of ballistic missiles aimed at Russia or its allies;
— an attack on critical government or military sites that would undermine the country’s nuclear forces response actions;
— the use of conventional weapons against Russia “when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy”.
What nuclear capabilities does Russia have?
The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, more than any other country. Of these, 1,588 are deployed and ready for use. Its missiles can be fired from the land, by submarines and by airplanes. Putin oversaw a coordinated test of Russia’s nuclear forces on Feb. 19 shortly before ordering troops into Ukraine.
Have Russia ever used a nuclear weapon in war?
No. To date, the only use of nuclear weapons during conflict was the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in 1945, at the end of World War Two.