The president’s fear of blowback has him slow-walking the Iran deal—while Tehran is getting closer to building a bomb.
Late last year, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal “one of the dumbest, most poorly thought out and counterproductive U.S. national security decisions of the post-Cold War era.”
With nuclear talks between the United States and Iran currently at what Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls a “decisive moment,” there is still hope for an agreement between the two sides. But we are fast approaching a point of no return that risks sparking heightened tensions and a new round of conflict in the Middle East.
Many Iran analysts expected Biden to reenter the agreement soon after taking office. But in confirmation hearings last January, Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines threw cold water on the potential for immediate U.S. reentry.
The root of the problem is the diplomatic version of “after you; no, after you; no, after you.”
American officials demanded that Iran account for and roll back the advances it had made in its nuclear program before the United States agreed to remove punishing sanctions reimposed by President Trump after he pulled out of the deal in
Iranian officials demanded that the U.S. make the first move—and lift sanctions as well as unfreeze Iran’s financial assets.
Since most of the sanctions on Iran are based on executive action, there was nothing stopping Biden from going back into the deal offering the caveat that if there was no progress on Iran coming back into compliance, he’d simply reimpose them.
When I asked Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, why the U.S. didn’t adopt this strategy, he offered me a simple, though pungent answer: “Biden is a wimp.”
He continued: “He would have taken a political hit for taking a chance on the Iranians that might or might not have worked out, but it would have put the ball in Iran’s court” and strengthened the hand of those in Tehran who wanted a deal. In Lewis’s view, Biden was afraid of the backlash, early in his administration, from appearing to make concessions to Tehran.
Multiple sources I spoke to chalk up the president’s reticence to an unwillingness to upset Iran hawks on Capitol Hill and, in particular, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Menendez has long been an opponent of the Iran deal, and there was fear within the Biden team that if the U.S. reentered the agreement without first wringing concessions out of Iran, Menendez would block or slow-roll the administration’s foreign policy nominees.
According to Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, trying to pacify opponents of the deal was a fool’s errand. “They don’t hate the deal because it’s a bad deal,” said Duss. “They hate the deal because it’s a deal with Iran. Full stop. On the JCPOA, there is no consensus to be built with anti-Iran
Others I spoke to argue that part of the problem is one of personnel. Before the rest of Biden’s Iran team had been confirmed by the Senate, those on the National Security Council (who did not need confirmation) who were focused on Middle East policy—like former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Brett McGurk—were not as supportive of the nuclear agreement.
Much of this was predictable. Last spring, analysts I spoke to warned that unless the U.S. and Iran reached an agreement soon, Iran’s presidential election in June would strengthen the hand of hawkish Iranians who have long opposed the nuclear deal. The election was won by hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, and that’s precisely what has happened.
One of the key Iranian demands has been a commitment from the U.S. that it won’t repeat what Trump did in 2018 when he pulled out of the deal. “They once violated the nuclear deal at no cost by exiting it,” the nation’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said last summer. “Now they explicitly say that they cannot give guarantees that it would not happen again.”
Since the Biden administration has no control over a future presidential administration, it can not offer guarantees.
According to Duss, if you look at things from the Iranians’ position, you might conclude that “we’ve been messed with by the Americans over the past several years. Now we have a new president. Can we trust him? Does he have control of his own politics?”
The answer appears to be no. And even if sanctions are lifted now, says Duss, “Will businesses really come back to Iran? Will banks give loans?” With the threat of a Republican president reimposing sanctions, as soon as possibly 2025, it’s hard to see why Iran would want to take that leap of faith.
But according to Lewis, the problem for American credibility runs even deeper. “Don’t blame Iran for making the decision that they want a bomb,” he told me. “After all, what arguments are left for making a deal with the Americans? The U.S. never follows through on their word” when it comes to nuclear agreements.
It’s an underappreciated point. In 1994, the U.S. signed the Framework Agreement with North Korea to end its nuclear program. But the U.S. never lived up to its obligations under the deal, which included the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor and normalizing diplomatic relations, and Pyongyang walked away.
In Iraq, we now know that Saddam Hussein did not restart his weapons of mass destruction program after the Gulf War, and in 2002 he allowed U.N. inspectors back into the country. Yet months later, the U.S. still invaded and ousted Saddam’s regime.
In Libya, Muammar Qaddafi voluntarily gave up his nuclear program, but that didn’t stop the U.S. from actively supporting rebels who toppled his regime and savagely killed him.
Considering that history—not to mention the fraught 40-year relationship between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran—it put a burden on Biden to act proactively, rather than demand even more concessions from Tehran. By choosing not to, Biden has further undermined the JCPOA and helped ensure that Iran is that much closer to a bomb. Even worse, he’s allowing his administration potentially to get further dragged into the region’s viper’s-nest politics.
For Iran, the risks are even greater. International sanctions continue to strangle its economy, and, paradoxically, the closer it gets to producing a bomb, the harder it will be ever to see those sanctions removed. At some point, the U.S. may conclude that further talks aren’t worth much if Iran is basically a turnkey nuclear power.
Both sides need a deal, and there remains guarded optimism that an agreement can finally be reached in the current round of talks. As one close follower of the negotiations said to me, “What’s the alternative?” But the U.S. and Iran should never have reached this point. That they did represents one of Joe Biden’s biggest foreign policy mistakes to date.Michael A. Cohen @speechboy71
January 25, 2022 at 11:19 am | Published in: Iraq, Middle East, NewsIraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr holds a press conference in Najaf, Iraq on November 18, 2021. [Karar Essa – Anadolu Agency]January 25, 2022 at 11:19 am
The eponymous leader of Iraq’s Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, has rejected a mediation offer by the Commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Esmail Qaani, and Mohammad Hussein Kawtharani, the representative of Hezbollah in Baghdad, in the efforts to form a consensus government.
“Kawtharani has left Najaf without meeting Al-Sadr,” said an official in the Sadrist movement who asked not to be named. “However, there were meetings with representatives of the movement.”
Efforts made by some “friends” to bring views closer are commendable, the official added. “They should not be at the expense of the national project, though, which is a national majority government.”
The official said that it is “unreasonable to repeat the same mistake for the fifth time in a row,” a reference to Al-Sadr’s refusal to form a consensus government that brings together all the winning political groups in parliament.
Qaani’s mediation “did not solve the most prominent knot in the dispute, which is the Sadrist movement’s right to form the government in the way it sees, as the first winner in the election and the holder of the largest number of seats among the Shia political forces.”
Muqtada Al-Sadr insists on forming a national majority government. He has stressed that pressure will not deter him from this.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A series of mild earthquakes have shaken homes and residents in central South Carolina.
The U.S. Geological Survey says three quakes Monday in Kershaw County near Elgin registered magnitudes of 3.3, 2.5 and 2.1.
The first earth-shaker rattled window panes and disrupted wildlife but apparently did not cause injuries or major damage. As the earthquake rumbled, with a sound similar to a heavy construction vehicle, it shook homes, caused glass doors and windows to clatter in their frames and prompted dogs to bark.
People reported feeling tremors throughout the Columbia area and as far away as Lexington, about 40 miles southwest of the epicenter.
A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman checks his weapon near Zolote village, in the eastern Lugansk region, on Jan. 21, 2022. (ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)
By Charles Kim | Tuesday, 25 January 2022 05:57 AM
United States spy planes are scouting the build up of Russian forces at its Ukrainian border to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin is deploying tactical nuclear weapons to the theater, The New York Times reported Sunday.
According to the report, Russian officials have signaled that the use of such weapons may be an option as it prepares for an invasion of Ukraine.
“We’re going to actually increase troop presence in Poland, in Romania, et cetera, if in fact he moves,” President Joe Biden said during a press conference last week. “They are part of NATO.”
According to reports, this could mean between 1,000 to 5,000 troops.
In a televised CBS interview on “Face the Nation” Sunday, Secretary Anthony Blinken said the U.S. and NATO are looking to beef up defense capabilities should Putin make a move into Ukraine.
“Even as we’re engaged in diplomacy, we are very much focused on building up defense, building up deterrence,” Blinken said in the interview. “NATO itself will continue to be reinforced in a significant way if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression. All of that is on the table.”
The military maneuvers, along with the State Department ordering U.S. diplomats and their families to leave Ukraine in the event of Russian military aggression, show a change in the stance from the Biden administration from restraint and threatening severe economic sanctions to a more proactive military posture with NATO.
“This is clearly in response to the sudden stationing of Russian forces in Belarus, on the border, essentially, with NATO,” Evelyn Farkas, the top Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration told The Times. “There is no way that NATO could not reply to such a sudden military move in this political context.
“The Kremlin needs to understand that they are only escalating the situation with all of these deployments and increasing the danger to all parties, including themselves.”https://a5b60c59312a2ed54f7b745f543fd332.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
While there are currently about 4,000 U.S. troops and an additional 1,000 NATO troops stationed in the region, U.S. spy planes have been regularly flying over Ukraine during the last month, listening to the communications of Russian commanders on the ground there, the Times reported.
Air Force E-8 Stars are also flying over the area to log the buildup of service members and any other weapons moving into the theater, including tactical nuclear weapons, according to the report.
As per report by the UK based Janes Defence Weekly on December 29, 2021, India on November 23, 2021 quietly launched its third SSBN (Nuclear Missile Submarine) at the secretive SBC (Ship Building Centre) in Visakhapatnam. Neither the Indian Navy nor the Ministry of Defense confirmed the news but according to the sources in the SBC (Ship Building Centre) in Visakhapatnam and Indian navy, the launch of the submarine was confirmed. The newly launched SSBN called S4 could be critical for India’s credible nuclear deterrence like the previous two SSBNs and could have serious implications for South Asian security.
The submarine has been built jointly by the DAE (Department of Atomic Energy), DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), Russian technicians and scientist and Indian Navy personnel. The publication also reported that the submarine has been relocated near the fitting-out wharf that was previously occupied by the INS Arighat which was launched in 2014 but still awaits its commissioning delayed due to pandemic. As per the report the satellite imagery shows that at 7000 tonnes, the SSBN is slightly larger, with 125.4m load water line measurement as compared to the 6000 tonne and 111.6 m load water line measurement of INS Arighat which is considered the lead boat in its class. Hence the S4 could be categorized as successive boat of Arihant class variants.
The magazine further reported that the additional length of the submarine shows the expansion of vertical launch system of the submarine, it could support nearly eight launch tubes (missiles) which is double as compared to the previous SSBN. The submarine would be able to carry eight K-4 SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) or 24 K-15 SLBMs with 3500 km and 750 km strike range respectively. However, the K-4 missile is still under development and not launched yet.
India in its quest to complete its nuclear triad plans to build six SSNs (Nuclear Powered Submarines). The naval platform is considered to be the most significant leg of the nuclear triad as it assures the second-strike capability of the state. But looking at India’s ambiguous NFU (No First Use Policy) such developments could become huge threat to the strategic stability of the South Asia. Development of SSBNs by India are matter of concern for not only Pakistan and Indian Ocean littoral states but for the international community as well. With the development of nuclear-powered submarines, India has entered the club of handful of countries that can construct, design and operate such submarines.
The belligerent and aggressive attitude of the India’s leadership raises serious concerns regarding responsible nuclear stewardship in India and threatens the strategic stability of South Asia. Construction of SSBNs and increased frequency of missile tests every year shows the aggressive posturing of India. Moreover, the deployment of nuclear weapons by India also requires the international community to reassess the non-proliferation benefits provided to India by various arms control and non-proliferation cartels. Pakistan being a responsible nuclear state is committed to objective of strategic stability in the region. Pakistan believes that the only way forward for both the states is to agree on nuclear and missile restraint measures.
Pakistan is also continuously strengthening its sea-based capabilities in order to deter India’s triad of land, sea and air launched nuclear weapons. There should not be any doubt about Pakistan’s capabilities and resolve to the challenges postured by the latest developments both in conventional and nuclear realms in South Asia. Pakistan has already built Baber-3 (Sea Launched Cruise Missile) that has MIRV (Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle) capability to counter growing submarine capability of India. It would provide a credible second-strike capability to Pakistan which would augment the existing deterrence considering the provocative nuclear posture and strategies in neighborhood by developing ship borne nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines. Other than that, even though India had successfully tested K-4 missiles, its range still remains sub-optimal that would require the SSBN to operate at Bay of Bengal north eastern fringes. This means that these submarines in order to target China’s economic and political hubs would have to travel round the Bangladeshi and Burmese littoral waters. Hence India’s sea-based deterrence capability would remain incomplete unless it is able to deploy SSBN fleet with inter-continental range missiles.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.
Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), left, and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) transit the Philippine Sea on Jan. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Two U.S. Navy carrier strike groups are currently drilling in the South China Sea amid the latest show of force of Chinese aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone on Sunday.
The Carl Vinson CSG and Abraham Lincoln CSG began dual-carrier operations in the South China on Sunday, the same day Taiwan said the People’s Liberation Army Air Force flew 39 planes in Taiwan’s ADIZ.
The CSGs “will engage in joint operations to include enhanced maritime communication operations, anti-submarine warfare operations, air warfare operations, replenishments-at-sea, cross-deck flight operations and maritime interdiction operations to strengthen maritime integrated-at-sea operations and combat readiness,” the U.S. Navy said in a news release, adding that training will take place in accordance with international law in international waters.
Throughout the last year there have been multiple incursions of Chinese aircraft in Taiwan’s ADIZ, heightening tensions between the both the U.S. and China and Taiwan and China.
“Our ability to rapidly aggregate and work collectively alongside CSG 3, highlights the U.S. Navy’s ability to deliver overwhelming maritime force, when called upon, to support a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Rear Adm. Dan Martin, the commander of CSG 1, said in the Navy news release. “We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea and free flow of commerce while deterring those who challenge the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific now and into the long-term future.”
The two American CSGs conducted an exercise in the Philippine Sea last week with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, the America Expeditionary Strike Group and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer helicopter carrier JS Hyuga ( DDH-181) and destroyer JS Myoko (DDG-175).
In a news release issued today, the JMSDF said the exercise took place in the vicinity of Oki Daito Island, an uninhabited island 315 kilometers, or about 196 miles, southeast of Okinawa. In December, the People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) conducted flight operations in the same area.
CSG 1, which is the Carl Vinson CSG, currently includes aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG-57), destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG-106) and USS Chafee (DDG-90), replenishment ship USNS Yukon (T-AO-202) and dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11). The Abraham Lincoln CSG, CSG 3, includes USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9; cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53); and destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), USS Gridley (DDG 101), USS Sampson (DDG-102) and USS Spruance (DDG-111). Sampson has since been detached and is now heading to Tonga to assist in relief efforts following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano earlier this month.
JMSDF landing ship tank JS Osumi (LST-4001), Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock HMAS Adelaide (L01), United Kingdom Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Spey (P234) and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) multi-role support vessel HMNZS Canterbury (L421) are also heading to Tonga to join the relief effort. RNZN offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington (P55) and replenishment ship HMNZS Aotearoa (A11) are already on the scene conducting relief operations. Osumi departed today from Kure, while the others are already in transit to Tonga. The French Navy is sending Patrol Vessel FNS Arago (P675) Offshore Patrol Vessel FNS La Glorieuse (P686).
“The Self-Defense Fleet has been making efforts to deepen friendly relations and strengthen cooperation with the Pacific island nations by conducting goodwill visits and training exercises at ordinary times, with the aim of realizing a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific.’ In this mission, we will do our best to support the reconstruction of our friend, the Kingdom of Tonga, hoping for its early recovery and sustainable development,” Vice Adm. Hideki Yuasa, the commander of the Joint Task Force for International Disaster Relief Operations in Tonga, said in a JMSDF news release about the departure.
Tonga’s Fua’amotu International Airport has now been cleared of volcanic ash, allowing Royal Australian Air Force C-17s, Japan Air Self-Defense Force C-2s and C-130s, and RNZAF C-130s to fly in relief supplies and equipment.
In other developments, German Navy Chief Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach resigned on Saturday following a furor over his comments in India on Friday, when he downplayed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions over Ukraine.
“Is Russia really interested in … a small, tiny strip of Ukraine’s soil? No, this is nonsense,” Schönbach said during a session at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, which was uploaded to Youtube. The admiral added that “what he really wants is respect. And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost … so if I was asked, it is easy to even give him the respect he really demands, and probably also deserves.”
He went on to say that “Russia is an old country. Russia is an important country. Even we, India, Germany, we need Russia, because we need Russia against China.”
The German Navy Chief also remarked that “the Crimea peninsula is gone. It will never come back, this is a fact,” a statement that contradicts Western nations’ position that the annexation was unacceptable and that the territory should be returned.
His remarks came amid criticism of the German government for its unwillingness to supply Ukraine with weapons, while other NATO countries were doing so in an effort to deter Russia, which has massed troops along its border with Ukraine.
Schönbach announced his resignation on Saturday in a release stating: “I have just asked the Federal Minister of Defense to release me from my duties and duties as Inspector of the Navy with immediate effect. The thoughtless comments I made in India on security and military policy are increasingly weighing on my office. In order to prevent further damage from the German Navy, the Bundeswehr, but above all from the Federal Republic of Germany, I consider this step to be necessary. The Federal Minister accepted my request. The Commander of the Fleet and Deputy Inspector of the Navy, Rear Admiral Kaack, will lead the German Navy until a successor decision is made.”
Schönbach only recently took over as German Navy Chief in March of 2021.
Schönbach was in India in conjunction with the visit of German Navy Frigate FGS Bayern (F217), which arrived on Friday in Mumbai during the final leg of its seven-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific. Bayern departed today from Mumbai and conducted a passage exercise with Indian Navy destroyer INS Visakhapatnam (D66) as it left.
Trapped in the nuclear talks, which are teetering on the verge of collapse, the Iranian regime has launched a drone attack on its Middle Eastern neighbors, similar to the drone attack it launched on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in September 2019.
This time, the regime launched an attack on Abu Dhabi’s airport in the UAE, with assistance from their Yemeni proxy group, the Houthis. This is just the latest attack among many that have been destabilizing the region for many years.
The regime plunders the wealth of the Iranian people in a bid to continue spreading terrorism across the globe, in a bid to fuel the flames of wars in the Middle East. Aimed at engaging the international community and the region, these crises serve as an insurance policy for the regime. This is despite the regime’s claims about new and expanding relations with the ‘East’ which in and of itself is proof of its international isolation and weakness even if it succeeds to secure a favorable outcome during the nuclear talks in Vienna.
As for the latest attack, the state-run Vatan-e Emrooz daily wrote on January 20, “What the Emiratis did not imagine finally happened. The nightmare of instability and insecurity has finally cast a shadow over the center of Wall Street in the Arab world. Henceforth, the Yemeni war has acquired different characteristics and must be approached from new angles.”
The same day, the Donya-e Eghtesad daily highlighted, “The Yemeni crisis is the main and key element in Iran-Saudi relations in the Middle East regional equation, especially in the current situation. Any opening or impasse in it will play a very important role in reconciliation or tension between the two countries. As the crisis hotspots in relations between the two countries, especially Syria and Bahrain, have largely waned, Yemen still has the potential to keep the Iran-Saudi relationship tensions active.”
The regime’s officials, and supreme leader Ali Khamenei, believe that by carrying out such actions, they will be able to garner more concessions from Saudi Arabia and keep them away from joining the nuclear negotiations actively and adding their own demands, such as the regime’s commitment to stop its destructive behavior in the Arab World. However, given the regime’s already weak position, it is likely that these latest acts of aggression will have an opposite effect.
On January 19, the Noandish daily warned Khamenei’s mouthpiece, Kayhan daily regarding the consequences of the regime’s terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi. “The happiness of friends in Kayhan about such attacks is quite understandable because they are generally not interested in improving Iran’s relations with other countries from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Europe and the United States. Nevertheless, escalating tension now is the last thing that the country needs.”
This warning is a stark message to the regime that it is high time it stops blackmailing other countries with terrorism, missile, and drone attacks.
The Noandish daily further stated, “At a time when Vienna’s talks to revive the JCPOA, and talks with the Saudis to resume diplomatic relations, have reached a critical juncture, the recent Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi could complicate the equation and act as a double-edged sword. While this attack may strengthen Iran’s position, it might very well disrupt the talks.”
The president is also considering deploying warships and aircraft to NATO allies, in what would be a major shift from its restrained stance on Ukraine.
Published Jan. 23, 2022Updated Jan. 24, 2022, 7:16 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON — President Biden is considering deploying several thousand U.S. troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, an expansion of American military involvement amid mounting fears of a Russian incursion into Ukraine, according to administration officials.
The move would signal a major pivot for the Biden administration, which up until recently was taking a restrained stance on Ukraine, out of fear of provoking Russia into invading. But as President Vladimir V. Putin has ramped up his threatening actions toward Ukraine, and talks between American and Russian officials have failed to discourage him, the administration is now moving away from its do-not-provoke strategy.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about internal deliberations.
Mr. Biden is expected to make a decision as early as this week, they said. He is weighing the buildup as Russia has escalated its menacing posture against Ukraine, including massing more than 100,000 troops and weaponry on the border and stationing Russian forces in Belarus. On Saturday, Britain accused Moscow of developing plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.
So far, none of the military options being considered include deploying additional American troops to Ukraine itself, and Mr. Biden has made clear that he is loath to enter another conflict following America’s painful exit from Afghanistan last summer after 20 years.
And the deployment of thousands of additional American troops to NATO’s eastern flank, which includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Biden administration officials said, is exactly the scenario that Mr. Putin has wanted to avoid, as he has seen the western military alliance creep closer and closer to Russia’s own border.
In his news conference last week, Mr. Biden said he had cautioned Mr. Putin that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would prompt Washington to send more troops to the region.
“We’re going to actually increase troop presence in Poland, in Romania, et cetera, if in fact he moves,” Mr. Biden said. “They are part of NATO.”
During a phone call this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III warned his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, that a Russian incursion into Ukraine would most likely result in the exact troop buildup that Mr. Biden is now considering.
At the time of the phone call — Jan. 6 — the Biden administration was still trying to be more restrained in its stance on Ukraine. But after unsuccessful talks between Mr. Blinken and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Friday, the administration is eying a more muscular posture, including not only diplomatic options like sanctions, but military options like increasing military support to Ukrainian forces and deploying American troops to the region.
“This is clearly in response to the sudden stationing of Russian forces in Belarus, on the border, essentially, with NATO,” said Evelyn Farkas, the top Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration. “There is no way that NATO could not reply to such a sudden military move in this political context. The Kremlin needs to understand that they are only escalating the situation with all of these deployments and increasing the danger to all parties, including themselves.”
A former top Pentagon official for Europe and NATO policy, Jim Townsend, said the administration’s proposal did not go far enough.
“It’s likely too little too late to deter Putin,” Mr. Townsend said in an email. “If the Russians do invade Ukraine in a few weeks, those 5,000 should be just a down payment for a much larger U.S. and allied force presence. Western Europe should once again be an armed camp.”
During the meeting at Camp David, Mr. Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared by video from the Pentagon and from General Milley’s quarters, where he has been quarantining since he tested positive for the coronavirus. Officials said that if Mr. Biden approved the deployment, some of the troops would come from the United States, while others would move from other parts of Europe to the more vulnerable countries on NATO’s eastern flank.
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.
American officials did not describe in detail the ground troop reinforcements under review, but current and former commanders said they should include more air defense, engineering, logistics and artillery forces.
Besides the troops, Mr. Biden could also approve sending additional aircraft to the region.
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday that the United States also needed to conduct more training in those NATO nations.
“We need joint exercises in Poland, the Baltic States, Romania, Bulgaria, to show Putin that we’re serious,” Mr. McCaul said on “Face the Nation.” “Right now, he doesn’t see we’re serious.”
According to Poland’s defense ministry, there are currently about 4,000 U.S. troops and 1,000 other NATO troops stationed in Poland. There are also about 4,000 NATO troops in the Baltic States.
The United States has been regularly flying Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic-eavesdropping planes over Ukraine since late December. 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 Biden administration is especially interested in any indication that Russia may deploy tactical nuclear weapons to the border, a move that Russian officials have suggested could be an option.
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.
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 frontline support, a U.S. official said.
Katie Benner, Edward Wong and Lara Jakescontributed reporting.
Hypersonic weapon programmes are highly secretive, with little public information about them, and as the technology advances they are changing fast.nullnullnull
Here’s what we know from information released by sources including the People’s Liberation Army, its Rocket Force University of Engineering and its National Defence University, as well as the US Department of Defence.
Hypersonic weapons are those that can travel at five times the speed of sound, or faster, in the air.Advertisementnull
Their high speed and manoeuvrability makes it difficult for existing air defence systems, including that of the United States, to discover, track or shoot down hypersonic weapons.
According to a recent PLA report, there is a 78 per cent chance on average of an air defence system failing to intercept a missile travelling at five times the speed of sound, and this failure rate rises to 90 per cent if it is travelling at six times the speed of sound.
Hypersonic weapons have been studied in China since the 1950s, notably by rocket scientist Qian Xuesen, known as the country’s “father of space technology”. Qian proposed a design for a hypersonic glide vehicle as early as 1948.Advertisementnull
Chinese military reports suggest that the appeal of hypersonic weapons lies in their ability to cripple a powerful competitor without fighting a nuclear war.
Most of China’s hypersonic missiles will be armed with conventional warheads, and could be able to destroy high-value targets such as aircraft carriers while sticking to China’s no-first-use principle on nuclear weapons.Advertisementnull
The US was once the leader in hypersonic technology, with air force pilot William Knight making the world’s first manned hypersonic flight on an X-15 test plane powered by a rocket back in 1967.Advertisementnull
But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, US policymakers saw hypersonic flight technology as unnecessary, and many promising projects were cancelled after they experienced a few failures.
In recent years, however, the US hypersonic weapon programme has been fast-tracked and a number of research, development and testing facilities have been built.Advertisementhttps://878f5d6c149879df96ea0dcf4897de2e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The top-secret facility – whose location and highest speed rating remain classified – allows for ground tests that could expose critical engineering and technical issues before a missile gets to the test-flight stage, according to scientists involved in the project
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.