The politics of the Middle East were never about religion

Published: June 21, 2018 5:16 p.m. ET

 

Religion is increasingly being superseded by strategic and security interests

 HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images
Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Shia cleric who previously led deadly attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, is now emerging as America’s best hope of containing Iran’s expanding influence in Iraq.

TEL AVIV, Israel (Project Syndicate) — When one thinks of conflict in the Middle East, religious factors are probably among the first that come to mind. But, nowadays, competing strategic interests and imperial ambitions play a much larger role than religious or sectarian cleavages in defining regional politics. This is potentially a positive development.

Consider the struggle for regional influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Despite having long been viewed as a result of the Sunni-Shia divide, the competition is really between two opposing political systems: Iran’s revolutionary regime, bent on changing the regional balance of power, versus Saudi Arabia’s conservative monarchy, which seeks to uphold the old regional order.

In this context, Iran’s support of the Arab Spring uprisings makes sense. In an Arab-dominated Middle East, non-Arab Iran is the natural enemy; but in a Muslim Middle East, the Islamic republic of Iran is a potential hegemon. So Iran was quick to back free elections, predicting that voters would bring Islamists to power.

Today’s turmoil in the Middle East is rooted largely in historical legacies and poor leadership, but the influence of religion hasn’t helped. So it is good news that, from Saudi Arabia to Israel to Iraq, religion is increasingly being superseded by strategic and security interests in shaping regional affairs.

The ultra-conservative House of Saud, by contrast, abhors such political upheaval and naturally views Arab democracy as a fundamental threat. So, while maintaining its close alliance with the United States, the Western imperial power that Iran fears most, Saudi Arabia opposed the uprisings, whether the protagonists were Shia (as in Bahrain), or Sunni (as in Egypt).

In this sense, the Arab Spring was a story of the growth and suppression of political Islam.

Moreover, alliances no longer fit within Sunni-Shia borders, further underscoring the primacy of politics, rather than religion, in fueling regional conflicts. For example, Hamas, the Sunni fundamentalist group that rules the Gaza Strip, has survived largely as a result of financing from Iran.

Similarly, Oman, dominated by Ibhadis and Sunnis, has a closer relationship with Iran, with which it shares control of the vital oil-shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, than it does with Saudi Arabia. In fact, Oman is now being accused of helping Iran to smuggle weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, where Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting a proxy war.

Likewise, Qatar maintains a relationship with Iran, with which it shares colossal gas fields, that is too close for Saudi Arabia’s comfort. Last year, the Saudis led a coalition of Arab countries — including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain — in isolating Qatar diplomatically and imposing sanctions.

And yet Turkey, another Sunni power, maintains a military base in Qatar. And this is not the only source of tension between Saudi Arabia and Turkey; they also disagree about the Muslim Brotherhood. Whereas the Saudis view the Brotherhood as an existential threat, Turkey considers it a model of Islamist politics worth defending and a means of expanding Turkish influence in the Arab world.

But Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood has put it at odds with yet another Sunni power: Egypt. Indeed, the Brotherhood is Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s nemesis. Together with its regional ambitions and efforts to position itself as the main champion of the Palestinian cause, Turkey appears to be directly challenging Egypt’s vital interests.

Perhaps the best illustration of how security and strategic concerns have superseded religious conflict is the shift in relations between Arab Sunni states — including the Gulf monarchies and Egypt — and Israel. The economic and military achievements of Israel, once the Arab world’s ultimate enemy and infidel, were long viewed as a measure of Arab failure — a source of endemic hatred alloyed with grudging admiration.

Yet, today, as Iran’s influence grows and Islamist terrorism continues to proliferate, Palestine is the last of Saudi Arabia’s worries. So fundamental are the changes to the Kingdom’s strategic interests that, despite being the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, it said nothing when President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital.” Other Sunni Gulf monarchies, as well as Egypt, have gone further, engaging in security cooperation with Israel.

Politics is also superseding religion within Israel

. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expansionist drive in the West Bank is about political power, not Judaism. After all, the creation of a majority-Palestinian bi-national state would mean severely diluting the country’s “Jewishness.”

In fact, to maintain its grip on the occupied territories, Israel’s religious-nationalist coalition has sold its soul to Christian anti-Semites: American evangelists. Netanyahu’s alliance with this group — ardent supporters of the colonization of Judea and Samaria — is an affront to both the overwhelmingly liberal Jewish-American community and the powerful rabbinical establishment in Israel.

A final example of a Middle Eastern country choosing politics over religion is Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Shia cleric who previously led deadly attacks against U.S. troops, is now emerging as America’s best hope of containing Iran’s expanding influence in Iraq.

The head of an unlikely alliance of reformist Islamists, secular civil-society groups, and Iraq’s communist party, Sadr won the recent parliamentary election by promising a nationalist drive to oust Iran from Iraq. Earlier this year, Sadr visited the fiercely anti-Iranian crown princes in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and is now the key obstacle between Iran and the strategic depth it seeks in Iraq.

Today’s chaos in the Middle East is rooted largely in historical legacies — arbitrarily drawn borders being a major one — and a lack of visionary leadership. But religious and sectarian divisions haven’t helped, either.

While the situation undoubtedly remains tense and unwieldy, religion’s waning political role may create an opening for progress, much as, say, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman’s willingness to discard fundamentalist imperatives favors modernization. After all, strategic and security interests are always more amenable than religious conviction to reason and diplomacy.

Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is vice president of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of “Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.”

This article was published with permission of Project SyndicateThe Political Decline of Religion in the Middle East.

Antichrist’s Men Fight Back Against Recount (Revelation 13:18)

https://media.dhakatribune.com/uploads/2018/05/iraq-1526712540661.jpgSadr Movement: No politician has the right to revoke election results

Al Arabiya

Jaafar al-Musawi, a spokesman for the leader of Sadr movement, Moqtada al-Sadr, said Tuesday that no political figure has the right to revoke the results of the parliamentary elections before a final verdict is issued by the Supreme Federal Court.

The spokesman added that the extraordinary open cabinet session is “political heresy”, pointing out that the Supreme Federal Court confirmed earlier that any outcomes of this meeting are considered “void”.

Al-Musawi also considered the session “as an emotional reaction” and that its decisions were subject to partisan and personal interests.

He said: “I think the Federal Court will repeal the articles that contradict the constitution”.

The Federal Court set Thursday, June, 21 as the date for considering the appeal of the President of the Republic of Iraq, Fuad Masum, and the Council of Commissioners as well as the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party former Iraqi Kurdistan Region president Massoud Barzani, on the decision of Parliament to amend the third law of elections.

A spokesperson for the federal government, Ayas al-Samouq said in a statement received by Al Arabiya English that the federal court has set a public hearing at 10 am on Thursday to look into the impeachment of the third amendment of the parliamentary elections law.

Iraqi prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced earlier that the Federal Court is the only body to decide on controversial issues between political blocs regarding the results of the election, including a re-run.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 June 2018 KSA 14:48 – GMT 11:48

Israel Accelerates Fighting in Jerusalem (Revelation 11:2)

https://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/B3-AS298_GAZA06_P_20180607103857.jpgIDF: Israeli response to Hamas arson balloons could get tougher

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus says the overnight Israeli strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip were more intense than previous sorties, and could increase if the Palestinian terrorist group continues to launch “arson balloons” into Israeli territory.

“We struck at a greater intensity, with the intended message for Hamas to understand that we will not allow this situation to continue,” Conricus tells reporters. “They [incendiary devices] may look like toys but I can assure they are not toys, they are weapons intended to kill and to inflict damage.”

He says that so far Israel had sought to warn off those launching the airborne devices but that could change.

“We have warned verbally, we have fired various munitions in close proximity to (them), we have fired various munitions on various related supporting infrastructure and equipment, vehicles et cetera, related to efforts to launch kites — that may not remain the situation,” Conricus says.

The German Nuclear Horn Will Rise (Daniel 7:7)

Germany presses U.S. on potential Eurofighter nuclear role

Andrea Shalal

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany is pressing Washington to clarify whether it would let the Eurofighter Typhoon carry nuclear bombs as part of shared Western defenses, an issue that could help decide whether Berlin orders more of the jets, sources familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Eurofighter Typhoon (L) and a Dassault Rafale are seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

Although not a nuclear power, Germany hosts some U.S. nuclear warheads under NATO’s nuclear-sharing policy and operates a number of Tornado warplanes that can deliver them. New jets will need to be certified by Washington to carry out nuclear missions, a process which can take years.

Germany’s defense ministry sent a letter to the U.S. Defense Department in April asking whether certification of the European jets was possible, how much it would cost, and how long it would take, the sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Top U.S. Air Force and Pentagon officials are working to respond to the German query, the sources said.

The multi-billion-euro tender to replace Germany’s fleet of 89 Tornados, which are due to retire in the middle of the next decade, pits the Typhoon against several U.S. contenders at a time of strains in transatlantic ties.

Executives with Airbus (AIR.PA), Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) and Boeing (BA.N) are making presentations to the defense ministry this week after submitting reams of information on their respective warplanes in April, with the formal launch of the competition expected later this year, industry sources said.

AIR.PAParis Stock Exchange

The German defense ministry declined comment on the issue.

No comment was immediately available from the Pentagon.

Lockheed’s radar-evading F-35 fighter is already slated to have the nuclear capability in the early 2020s, while the Eurofighter would still need certification.

Airbus has said it is confident Eurofighter – a joint project with Britain’s BAE Systems (BAES.L) and Italy’s Leonardo (LDOF.MI) – could be certified by 2025. Sources familiar with the Eurofighter said it was possible to reconfigure the European jet to carry nuclear bombs.

But U.S. government sources say that schedule is ambitious given that the F-35 and other aircraft must be certified first. Washington has suggested it could take 7-10 years to certify the Eurofighter for nuclear missions, well beyond the Tornado’s retirement date, according to one German military source.

While urging Europe to boost defense spending, U.S. officials are worried about being shut out of European defense projects after 25 EU governments signed a pact in December to fund, develop and deploy armed forces together. [nL2N1QH1P6]

U.S. officials will also weigh whether the Eurofighter could survive a mission into enemy territory to drop a nuclear bomb without stealth capability at a time when Russia and other potential future enemies have bolstered their sensors and air defenses, a second source said.

The F-35 is the only aircraft in the running that has such radar-evading capabilities, but Boeing and Eurofighter argue that their aircraft can work in tandem with jamming equipment.

Volker Paltzo, chief executive of Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH, told Reuters this week that he remained confident that Eurofighter could take over the roles of the Tornado, and the company had a strategy to deal with a length certification process.

He said the Tornado had been successfully recertified several times after major upgrades.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

NYC earthquake risk: the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

NYC earthquake risk: Could Staten Island be heavily impacted?

By Ann Marie Barron

Updated May 16, 4:31 AM; Posted May 16, 4:00 AM

Rubble litters Main Street after an earthquake struck Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A report by the U.S. Geological Survey outlines the differences between the effect of an earthquake in the West vs. one in the East. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – While scientists say it’s impossible to predict when or if an earthquake will occur in New York City, they say that smaller structures — like Staten Island’s bounty of single-family homes — will suffer more than skyscrapers if it does happen.

“Earthquakes in the East tend to cause higher-frequency shaking — faster back-and-forth motion — compared to similar events in the West,” according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), published on its website recently “Shorter structures are more susceptible to damage during fast shaking, whereas taller structures are more susceptible during slow shaking.”

DIFFERENCES IN INTENSITY

The report, “East vs West Coast Earthquakes,” explains how USGS scientists are researching factors that influence regional differences in the intensity and effects of earthquakes, and notes that earthquakes in the East are often felt at more than twice the distance of earthquakes in the West.

Predicting when they will occur is more difficult, said Thomas Pratt, a research geophysicist and the central and Eastern U.S. coordinator for the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in Reston, Va.

“One of the problems in the East Coast is that we don’t have a history to study,” he said. “In order to get an idea, we have to have had several cycles of these things. The way we know about them in California is we dig around in the mud and we see evidence of past earthquakes.”

Yet Pratt wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a high-magnitude event taking place in New York, which sits in the middle the North American Tectonic Plate, considered by experts to be quite stable.

“We never know,” he said. “One could come tomorrow. On the other hand, it could be another 300 years. We don’t understand why earthquakes happen (here) at all.”

Though the city’s last observable earthquake occurred on Oct. 27, 2001, and caused no real damage, New York has been hit by two Magnitude 5 earthquakes in its history – in 1738 and in 1884 — prompting many to say it is “due” for another.

While earthquakes generally have to be Magnitude 6 or higher to be considered “large,” by experts, “a Magnitude 5, directly under New York City, would shake it quite strongly,” Pratt said.

The reason has to do with the rock beneath our feet, the USGS report says.

OLDER ROCKS

In the East, we have older rocks, some of which formed “hundreds of millions of years before those in the West,” the report says. Since the faults in the rocks have had so much time to heal, the seismic waves travel more efficiently through them when an earthquake occurs.

“Rocks in the East are like a granite countertop and rocks in the West are much softer,” Pratt said. “Take a granite countertop and hit it and it’ll transmit energy well. In the West, it’s like a sponge. The energy gets absorbed.”

If a large, Magnitude 7 earthquake does occur, smaller structures, and older structures in Manhattan would be most vulnerable, Pratt said. “In the 1920s, ’30s and late 1800s, they were not built with earthquake resistance,” he said, noting that newer skyscrapers were built to survive hurricanes, so would be more resistant.

When discussing earthquake prediction and probability, Pratt uses the analogy of a baseball player who averages a home run every 10 times at bat and hasn’t hit one in the past nine games: “When he’s up at bat, will he hit a home run? You just don’t know.”

And though it would probably take a magnitude of 7 to topple buildings in the city, smaller earthquakes are still quite dangerous, he said.

“Bookshelves could fall down and hit you,” he said. “People could be killed.” A lot of stone work and heavy objects fell from buildings when a quake of 5.8 magnitude struck central Virginia in 2011, he noted, but, fortunately, no one was injured.

To be safe, Pratt encourages New Yorkers to keep a few days’ worth of drinking water and other supplies on hand. He, himself, avoids putting heavy things up high.

“It always gets me nervous when I go into a restaurant that has heavy objects high on shelves,” he said. “It’s unlikely you’ll get an earthquake. But, we just don’t know.”

Why Canada Will Become a Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Please consider inaugurating a nuclear armament program. Please begin this process now.

I never imagined writing something like this. American by birth, but now also a Canadian citizen, I’ve always regarded the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a stain on my birth nation’s honour. But the time has come to face reality, and the foreign minister’s June speech reasserting Canadian sovereignty is only the beginning of the reckoning.

We are in many ways living through a replay of the 1930s: a world struggling in the wake of economic cataclysm, fascists rising across Europe and an authoritarian in power (this time in the United States) cultivates support from the radical right.

Tyranny is on the march, and there is no clear end-point in sight. We can no longer assume that our country’s safety is assured, and even proposals for anti-missile defence don’t go far enough because they assume a democratic U.S. – the very thing that is now in question.

Alarmist? Maybe. But the consequences of a misstep now — the 21st-century equivalent of 1933, the year of Hitler’s ascendance — are dire, and we can’t regain later the time that we lose now. Nuclear programs take time to initiate, and in order to be prepared for our version of 1939 (the start of the Second World War), we cannot allow these to be “the locust years,” as Winston Churchill described the time wasted between 1933 and 1939.

So this is 1933. Start the countdown.

America is on a quest to demonize Muslims, round up Mexican immigrants, restrict trade, break up NATO and help Vladimir Putin divvy up the world. If you want to understand Donald Trump’s foreign policy, think “Mafia Protection Racket.” Just change the little shop-owners, forced to pay up, into little nations across the globe.

Canada is a small shopkeeper not so well-positioned to resist this new racket.

To understand what it’s like being beside a bully in today’s world, look at Ukraine. Perhaps the greatest mistake that country made after the breakup of the USSR was to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The consequences? Russia seizes Crimea and effectively invades eastern Ukraine by arming Russian secessionists there. This could also happen to Latvia and the Baltic states.

Could it happen here? For more than a century, Canadian policy could assume that, while the U.S. might be an 800-lbs gorilla on our doorstep, at least the gorilla played by the rules. But Trump has said the old rules won’t apply, and his selection of white nationalists and conspiracy theorists to powerful roles in his administration indicates he is not kidding.

Most troublingly, recent Congressional Republican capitulation on “L’Affaire Russe” shows us that the famed “checks and balances” of the U.S. Constitution mean little, and that the path to American authoritarianism is wide open.

To plan for the day when the U.S. is more like Putin’s aggressive bear, Canada must be able to protect itself without anyone’s assistance. A conventional military buildup is nonsensical, given the size disparity between the U.S., Russia, and ourselves.

But as Israel, Pakistan and North Korea have shown, nuclear arms are a pragmatic deterrent for small nations adjacent to populous neighbours of uncertain motives.

Yes, this might provoke the ire of Trump or Putin, and hasten the conflict it means to stave off. That risk must be carefully weighed. But what do you think Ukraine would do, given the chance to go back and keep its nukes?

Was Ukrainian disarmament rewarded with Russian pacifism? Who, other than Putin, is Trump’s model for strong leadership? And, speaking of Putin, who is looking to contest Canada’s future Arctic claims? If you think Trump will support us against Russia’s coming provocations, think again.

Rather than trigger a crisis, I expect this strategy would preserve the peace, by forcing potential aggressors to acknowledge a far more potent Canadian response.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that America is our enemy. Canada just needs to prepare to ensure its own security in an uncertain world, which requires having the resources to face any potential future conflict.

Starting a nuclear program is not easy. It takes time and research to determine the most practical options for Canada. It will also require withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a step with major ramifications that requires careful consideration.

Importantly, however, we should not think that such a program would be inherently “un-Canadian.” For two decades, during the Cold War, we had up to 450 nuclear warheads permanently stationed on Canadian bases (though these were not under exclusive Canadian control). We need to trust in ourselves even more now, and stop relying on others to protect us.

Maybe I’m being alarmist. Maybe. But at what point does alarmism become prudence? Not when an aggressor makes the first overt threats – by then it’s too late. If 1933 (i.e. now) is too soon, then when? At some point we must be ready to start the discussion about protecting ourselves, and three years’ grace is about the best we can hope for.

After that we have to rely on the United Kingdom or United States to bail us out … Oh, wait.

Stefan Dolgert is an associate professor in the department of Political Science at Brock University in St. Catharines, and can be found on Twitter @PosthumanProf.

Iraq is Ready to Join the Fight (Daniel 7/8)

 

Iraqi paramilitary groups have threatened to launch attacks against the U.S. and Israel after yet unclaimed airstrikes reportedly killed a number of Iraqi militiamen battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border.

Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, two powerful Shiite Muslim factions within the larger Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces of Iraq, issued warnings Tuesday saying they were ready to retaliate against Monday’s deadly attacks that have been blamed on both the U.S. and Israel. The U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in both countries has denied responsibility for the strikes, which reportedly killed dozens near the border town of Al-Bukamal, while Israel has declined to comment.

“This terrible crime will reopen the confrontation with the Zionist entity and the American project, and we in the Kataib Hezbollah, we will not hesitate to go towards this confrontation,” the group’s statement read, calling President Donald Trump an “idiot” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “moron” for their military incursions in the region.

“The mujahideen are the elite of men, and their blood is dearest of all. We will not let the crime of targeting them pass unnoticed, and we will know in the coming days the criminals who extended their sinful hands to commit aggression on our Iraqi border and then take a position commensurate with the size of this crime,” the group, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., added.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which also deeply opposes the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq after the country declared victory over ISIS last year, released its own statement Tuesday condemning “the treacherous act of cowardice” committed by aircraft “whose identity is limited to America and Israel.”

The group called on Iraq to take a tougher stance against the U.S., who has been active in the country since invading and overthrowing the previous government led by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003. The ensuing chaos gave rise to a Sunni Muslim insurgency that helped spawn ISIS, which ultimately took advantage of a West-backed 2011 uprising in Syria to spread there in 2013.

The U.S. and its foe, Iran, both supported Iraq as it fought off the jihadis that took half the country by 2014. With ISIS defeated, however, voices calling for a U.S. withdrawal have risen within Iraq and May’s election gave a surprise victory to a political bloc led by Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr helped organize Shiite Muslim militias to resist the post-2003 U.S. occupation, but he has yet to officially ask the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS to leave.

Syria, however, has proven a different theater entirely. When the U.S. began bombing ISIS there in 2014, it did so without the authorization of the Syrian government, who the CIA had been funding rebels to fight since at least 2012. Russia and Iran have helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad overcome both jihadis and insurgents in campaign separate from that of the U.S.-led coalition offensive against ISIS.

Monday’s strikes were the latest example of violence targeting forces fighting on behalf of Assad, who the U.S. and Israel charge with war crimes and with allowing Iranian influence to spread through the country.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency quickly condemned Monday’s attack in which it cited an official military source as saying there “were several martyrs and others were wounded.” The U.S.-led coalition denied responsibility, but CNN and the Agence France-Presse cited unnamed U.S. officials claiming Israel was the true culprit. Israel routinely neither confirms nor denies responsibility for attacks in Syria, but has admitted to targeting Iran and pro-Iran forces, albeit often near Syria’s western and southwest regions.

Iraq, who considers itself an ally of both the U.S.-led coalition and the Russia-Iran-Syria axis, expressed “its rejection and condemnation” of the attacks in a foreign ministry statement Tuesday that warned such actions were tantamount to “support for ISIS.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitor based in the U.K., reported Tuesday that up to 55 pro-Syrian government fighters were killed and the warplanes involved flew in “the same airspace used by the International Coalition warplanes, and the death toll is expected to rise because there are some people in critical situation.”

When pressed for answers, U.S.-led coalition spokesman Army Colonel Sean Ryan again said that the multinational force was not behind the strikes and claimed to not have any knowledge of any parties involved. He confirmed only that Iraq was not behind the attack and, when asked about Israel’s potential involvement, he said: “As far as I know, we don’t discuss any military operations with the Israelis at all.

“We have ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaisance] in that area, but we can’t determine, you know, who fired it, nor is that our military goal,” he added. “That’s an intelligence question, and I can’t divulge that information, even if I had it, which I don’t.”

The Asian Nations Prepare for Nuclear War (Revelation 8)

India, Pakistan expanding their new nuclear weapons stockpiles: SIPRI

Shubham Raj

India, which had an estimated 120-130 nuclear warheads as per 2017 report, now has 130-140 warheads. Similarly, Pakistan, which had 130-140 warheads now has increased to 140-150 warheads. Both countries are also developing new land, sea and air-based missile delivery systems.

Another nuclear country in Asia, China continues to modernise its nuclear weapon delivery systems and is slowly increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal. The country now has an estimated 280 nuclear warheads. In 2017 report, the number was 270.

The US and Russia still constitute a major share of approximately 14,465 nuclear weapons that exist in the world. Both together account for nearly 92 percent of all nuclear weapons despite reducing their strategic nuclear forces pursuant to the implementation of the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.

Moreover, the cold war-era rivals also have long-term programmes underway to replace and modernise their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities.

“The renewed focus on the strategic importance of nuclear deterrence and capacity is a very worrying trend,” says Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board.

“The world needs a clear commitment from the nuclear weapon states to an effective, legally binding process towards nuclear disarmament.”

Other countries which are a nuclear state include the UK (215 warheads), France (300 warheads), Israel (80 warheads) and North Korea (10-20 warheads). The figures for North Korea are uncertain, the report said, however, there was no doubt that it has nuclear weapons.

In 2017, North Korea has made technical progress in developing its nuclear weapon capabilities, including the test of—what was claimed to be—a thermonuclear weapon, in September. North Korea also demonstrated unexpected rapid progress in the testing of two new types of long-range ballistic missile delivery systems. These testing led to a crisis in the Korean peninsula.

However, in a meeting with US president Donald Trump, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un vowed to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Koran peninsula.

Setting up the Australian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

 

One big reason? Australia already has the protection of the United States nuclear umbrella. Under this system, the US pledges that if anyone should launch a nuclear strike on one of its allies, Washington would retaliate against the aggressor.

So to suggest that Australia now needs its own atomic arsenal is to suggest that there has been a fundamental breakdown in trust. In short, that the US alliance is dead.

The four fissile firebrands – Hendy, White, Dibb and Brabin-Smith – don’t press this as an urgent priority. But they don’t want Australia to be caught unprepared if it should become so.

But hold on. Why now? Isn’t this exactly the wrong time to be laying such plans? Doesn’t this week demonstrate that the US can act to deal with a hostile nuclear state? Didn’t Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un just reduce a threat for the US allies in the region, including Australia, which falls within reach of Kim’s long-range missiles?

There are two key points here. First, the text of the brief document that the leaders signed does say that North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. But this is neither new nor convincing.

A former US nuclear negotiator with the North Koreans, Republican David Asher, who led the North Korean activities group in the White House of George W. Bush, says: “For the President to say that the nuclear threat has been eliminated is, I think, unwise. If he’s wrong, it’ll be on him.”

Asher, a scholar at the Centre for New American Security, says: “I have hope, but after dealing with the North Koreans for 25 years, it’s not a promise I personally can have great faith in.” Asher has a litany of first-person examples of Kim Dynasty duplicity.

The consensus in Canberra is much the same. Although Turnbull has commended Trump for giving it “a red-hot go”, he says that we need to see whether Kim actually delivers. The briefings that the security agencies gave Turnbull and other ministers this week were summarised by one participant as “it’s complex, we need to wait and see”.

So the first point is that no one can yet know whether Trump has actually de-fanged a dangerous enemy. But the second point is what everyone does know now – that Trump is prepared to trade away the interests of an ally if he thinks it will help him get a deal with an enemy.

Trump announced that he had promised Kim he would stop the big military exercises that the US conducts with South Korea twice a year. This is not necessarily a bad idea and may be a useful concession to show US goodwill.

The joint exercises began in 1968 after Pyongyang sent a team of 31 commandos to assassinate South Korea’s president in his official residence, the Blue House, in Seoul. They failed but got within 100 metres of their target. The military manoeuvres were designed to show US and South Korean unity, commitment and readiness.

The problem? The cancellation was news to South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-In. It was news to another keenly interested US ally, Japan’s Shinzo Abe. And it was news to Trump’s own military commanders, who were in the middle of preparations for the next exercises, two months away.

 

And in announcing the end to the manoeuvres, Trump adopted the language of the North Korean propagandists. Pyongyang has long railed against the exercises as “provocative war games”. The US has never called them war games nor described them as provocative; Trump did both.

It seems that Kim put the demand to Trump in the negotiating room and Trump agreed on the spot. He agreed to a demand by an enemy without consulting his ally. “It is urgent to make bold decision,” Kim told the US leader, in the words of the North Korean official news agency, and Trump bought it.

This was greeted with delighted incredulity in Beijing. Because this is precisely what the Chinese Communist Party has sought for many years. Professor Shi Yinhong, of the People’s University in Beijing, said that Trump’s pledge to halt military manoeuvres was almost “too good to be true” from China’s point of view.

Why does China care? Because one of its greatest strategic aims is to separate the US from its allies. One of America’s greatest assets is that it sits at the centre of a global alliance system embracing more than 40 nations, including most of the world’s major economies. China, by contrast, has a only couple of rather unimpressive allies, Pakistan and North Korea.

Shi drew the connection: If US troops in South Korea were to stop the military exercises, it could cause allies to lose confidence in Washington and undermine the entire US military presence in Asia, he told America’s National Public Radio. For China, this is victory on every level.

“We see a clear pattern of Donald Trump turning against his allies,” says a close student of Trump foreign policy, Tom Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “He’s generally hung his allies out to dry.”

Don't kid yourself, Trump and Kim are up to no good

Just in the last two weeks he has harmed US alliances with Britain, France, Germany and Canada, putting punitive tariffs on their exports and insulting Canada’s Justin Trudeau on top, calling him weak and dishonest.

He upset his allies at the annual G7 summit by proposing that Russia be restored to the group’s meetings, when the G7 is supposed to be ostracising Putin for invading Ukraine.

Trump has inflicted so much political damage to America’s European and Canadian alliances that “the community of North American and European nations forming the nucleus of the alliance that won the Cold War for the West is closer to breaking up now than at any time since the 1940s” in the assessment of Walter Russell Mead, an American scholar.

“And,” says Wright, “he completely sidelined Japan” with this week’s Kim summit. It seems that there was only one US ally who had been able to persuade Trump decisively to change US policy, and even that has turned sour, says Wright.

South Korea’s Moon was the one who persuaded Trump to try directly negotiating with Kim, yet in those very negotiations Trump ended up trading away a South Korean interest. “Moon thought he could ride the tiger, control where he went, but didn’t realise the tiger goes where the tiger wants to go,” as Wright puts it. “He brought Trump into this but then lost control.”

Why does Trump consistently act against the interests of his allies? Wright, who predicted just this  pattern of behaviour before Trump was elected, explains: “In his 30-year history of talking and writing about this stuff, Trump has always been more aggravated by America’s friends than its enemies.

“He has been consistent about this for 30 years. It’s not sophisticated or complex, but he is much more ideological than people think: interdependence is a bad deal for America.” Trading partners will cheat America; allies will free ride on America’s military budget.

Australia has been unscathed so far; Wright says that this will likely change only if some disagreement emerges. Trump isn’t so systematic to work down a list of allies he must alienate, but he will “react to what’s in front of him. It’s possible to sneak on by.”

The only time he will turn against a US rival is if he thinks that rival is directly threatening the US with attack, according to Wright. Otherwise, he’s happy to deal with America’s enemies: “He’s open to deals, he worries about commitments.”

Which is how he manages to make concessions to North Korea while sidelining the interests of South Korea. Trump went further, saying that he wanted one day to withdraw the 28,000 US troops that provide an American “trip wire” across the Demilitarised Zone separating North from South.

If the North should invade, the US forces will be engaged automatically, the wire tripped, guaranteeing America will come to Seoul’s defence. Trump said this was a matter for the future; South Korea’s Moon wishes he hadn’t raised it at all.

If Trump’s North Korean gambit works, he will have a serious achievement. If it fails? Says Asher: “The irony of the North Korean denuclearisation deal could be that everybody else decides to go nuclear. If it fails and Kim remains in power and countries doubt our commitment, then what’s to stop Japan or South Korea or Australia going nuclear?”

It could lead to “mass nuclearisation – it’s a very bad position, 20 countries in the region with nukes, like 20 people in a room all pointing guns at each other”.

These are, of course, imponderables, possible futures that no one hopes for but governments need to plan for. Hendy and White and Dibb and Brabim-Smith may be tending towards alarmism, but they want Australians to think about the world after the American-led alliance system has passed into history.

An American journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg, writes in The Atlantic this week that he asked a number of unnamed White House officials whether there is a Trump doctrine in foreign policy. One, described as a senior official with direct access to the President and his thinking, replied that there is. And it is: “We’re America, bitch.” History is in the making.

Peter Hartcher is international editor

Peter Hartcher is the political editor and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He is a Gold Walkley award winner, a former foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Washington, and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

The Growing Indian Nuclear Horn

 

NEW DELHI:

Pakistan may continue to remain slightly ahead of India in terms of the number ofnuclear warheads, with China having double the quantity, but the Indian defence establishment believes its deterrence capability is “robust”, designed to ensure “survivability” for retaliatory strikes and firmly on track for further modernization.Pakistan now has 140-150 nuclear warheads as compared to 130-140 of India, with China hovering around 280, as per the latest assessment of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which was released on Monday.

The US and Russia are in a different league altogether with 6,450 and 6,850 nuclear warheads respectively, together accounting for 92 per cent of the 14,465 nuclear weapons around the globe. Arsenals of the other seven nuclear-armed countries are considerably smaller, but all are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems.

“India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon stockpiles as well as developing new land, sea and air-based missile delivery systems. China continues to modernize its nuclear weapon delivery systems and is slowly increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal,” said SIPRI.

Defence establishment sources here say India, confronted with the collusive threat from China and Pakistan, has no other option but to systematically build nuclear deterrence that is “credible” and capable of inflicting massive damage in a retaliatory strike to any first strike by an adversary.

Pak nukes

“The number of warheads do not really matter. With a declared no-first use (NFU) nuclear policy, India is keen to ensure survivability and credibility of our assets and NC3 (nuclear command, control and communication) systems for assured second-strike capabilities…We have achieved this to a large extent,” said a source.

Pakistan, of course, has deliberately kept its nuclear policy ambiguous to deter India from undertaking any conventional military action despite repeated provocations, even as it fast supplements its enriched uranium-based nuclear programme with a weapons-grade plutonium one through the four heavy water reactors at the Khushab nuclear complex with help from China.

Islamabad also often brandishes its 70-km range Nasr (Hatf-IX) nuclear missiles as an effective battlefield counter to India’s “Cold Start” strategy of swift, high-voltage conventional strikes into enemy territory. “For India, nuclear weapons are not war-fighting weapons. But we need credible minimum deterrence, with the certainty of massive retaliation against adversaries,” said the source.

China, with its rapid military modernization and expanding nuclear and missile arsenals, of course remains a major worry. Towards this end, it’s estimated that India, which has a largely plutonium-based nuclear weapons programme, would like to achieve a stockpile of around 200 warheads in the decade ahead.

The tri-Services Strategic Forces Command is now in the process of inducting India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, the over 5,000-km range Agni-V missile, which can hit even the northernmost region of China.

But the continuing lack of an adequate number of nuclear-powered submarines armed with long-range nuclear-tipped missiles, which can silently stay underwater for extended periods, needs to be plugged to achieve a credible nuclear weapons triad. “Projects are underway to achieve this,” said the source.