The Final Nuclear Race (Revelation 16)

The nuclear arms race is back … and ever more dangerous now

Simon TisdallSat 17 Aug 2019 09.00 EDT

Donald Trump has increased spending on America’s arsenal while ripping up cold war treaties. Russia and China are following suit

Imagine the uproar if the entire populations of York, Portsmouth or Swindon were suddenly exposed to three times the permissible level of penetrating gamma radiation, or what the nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford termed gamma rays. The outpouring of rage and fear would be heard across the world.

That’s what happened to the roughly 200,000 people who live in the similarly sized northern Russian city of Severodvinsk on 8 August, after an explosion at a nearby top-secret missile testing range. Russia’s weather service, Rosgidromet, recorded radiation levels up to 16 times higher than the usual ambient rate.

Yet the incident has been met with surly silence by Russia. It was five days before officials confirmed a blast at the Nyonoksa range had killed several people, including nuclear scientists. No apologies were offered to Severodvinsk residents. There is still little reliable information. “Accidents, unfortunately, happen,” a Kremlin spokesman said.

That callous insouciance is not universally shared. According to western experts, the explosion was caused by the launch failure of a new nuclear-powered cruise missile, one of many advanced weapons being developed by Russia, the US and China in an accelerating global nuclear arms race.

Vladimir Putin unveiled the missile, known in Russia as the Storm Petrel and by Nato as Skyfall, in March last year, claiming its unlimited range and manoeuvrability would render it “invincible”. The Russian president’s boasts look less credible now.

But Putin is undeterred. Denying suggestions that the missile is unreliable, the Kremlin insisted Russia was winning the nuclear race. “Our president has repeatedly said that Russian engineering in this sector significantly outstrips … other countries,” a spokesman said.

Now fast-forward to 16 August, and another threatening event: the test-firing by North Korea of potentially nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, the sixth round of launches since July. More than two years of vanity diplomacy by Donald Trump has not convinced Pyongyang it is safe to give up its nukes – proof, if it were needed, that unilateral counter-proliferation initiatives do not work.

Arms control experts say a consistent, joined-up international approach is woefully lacking. Thus Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal is tolerated, and the idea of a bomb developed by Saudi Arabia is no longer ruled out. But the merest hint that Iran may build a nuclear weapon is greeted with megatons of hypocritical horror.

In a sense, the problem is circular. Putin argues that Russia’s build-up is a response to destabilising US moves to modernise and expand its own nuclear arsenal – and he has a point. Barack Obama, the former president, developed a $1.2tn plan to maintain and replace the “triad” of US air, sea and land-based nuclear weapons.

Trump has gone much further. The Pentagon’s nuclear posture review, published last year, proposed an additional $500bn in spending, including $17bn for low-yield, tactical nuclear weapons that could be used on conventional battlefields. The first of these new warheads is due to become operational next month.

Critics in Congress say low-yield weapons make nuclear warfare more likely, and oppose Trump’s budget increases. But with US planners saying the biggest national security threat is no longer terrorism but nuclear-armed states, there is little doubt that many new weapons projects will get the go-ahead.

An activist in Germany wearing a Trump mask protesting against the scrapping of the INF treaty. Photograph: Omer Messinger/EPA

The renewed nuclear arms race is a product of Trump’s America First outlook and that of comparable ultra-nationalist and insecure regimes elsewhere. Trump’s emphasis on defending the “homeland” is leading inexorably to the militarisation of US society, whether at the Mexican border, on inner-city streets or in its approach to international security.

We have far more money than anybody else by far,” Trump said last October. “We’ll build up until [Russia and China] come to their senses.” Outspending the opposition was a tactic employed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. And Trump is putting taxpayers’ money where his mouth is. Overall, annual US military spending is soaring, from $716bn this year to a proposed $750bn next year.

The paradox is that even as the risk of nuclear confrontation grows, the cold war system of treaties that helped prevent Armageddon is being dismantled, largely at Trump’s behest. Earlier this month, the US withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia (which rid Britain and Europe of US missiles deployed in the early 80s).

The US is also signalling it will not renew the New Start strategic nuclear weapons treaty when it expires in 2021. Washington claims Moscow cheated on the INF pact; Russia denies it. But the real US concern is that both treaties tie its hands, especially regarding China – another example of the impact of America First thinking.

This increasingly unregulated, three-way contest poses indisputable dangers. The US plans were “unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe” and “increase the risks of miscalculation, unintended escalation, and accelerated global nuclear competition”, the independent US-based Arms Control Association said in April.

With a much smaller arsenal than the US and Russia, China, too, is “aggressively developing its next generation of nuclear weapons”, according to a major Chinese weapons research institute. Nor, given Moscow’s and Washington’s behaviour, has it an incentive to stop, despite Trump’s vague proposal for a trilateral disarmament “grand bargain”.

Like the US, China – while historically pledged to “no first use” – wants potential enemies to believe it may actually use tactical nukes. As Dr Strangelove would doubtless appreciate, this, perversely, increases the chances that it will.

The dreadful example these nuclear arms-racers are setting to non-nuclear states such as Iran is obvious. By failing to uphold arms control agreements, neglecting collaborative counter-proliferation efforts, and building new, more “usable”, dangerously unproved weapons like the one that irradiated Severodvinsk, the nuclear powers are digging their own graves – and ours.

Shi’a Horn Targets Remote Saudi Oil Field

Yemen rebel drone attack targets remote Saudi oil field

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press

FILE – In this Monday, March 8, 2004 file photo, an industrial plant strips natural gas from freshly pumped crude oil is seen at Saudi Aramco’s Shaybah oil field at Shaybah in Saudi Arabia’s Rub al-Khali desert. Saudi state TV reported Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, that a fire had been controlled at the…  (Associated Press)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia’s sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a “limited fire” in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.

The attack on the Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day near the kingdom’s border with the United Arab Emirates, again shows the reach of the Houthis’ drone program. Shaybah sits some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory, underscoring the rebels’ ability to now strike at both nations, which are mired in Yemen’s yearslong war.

The drone assault also comes amid heightened tensions in the wider Mideast between the U.S. and Iran, whose supreme leader hosted a top Houthi official days earlier in Tehran.

State media in Saudi Arabia quoted Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih as saying production was not affected at the oil field and no one was wounded in the attack Saturday. The state-run Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known widely as Saudi Aramco, issued a terse statement acknowledging a “limited fire” at a liquid natural gas facility at Shaybah.

Their acknowledgement came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their “biggest-ever” operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming.

“This is in response to their aggression toward us and our people in Yemen,” Sarie said.

Al-Falih linked the attack to a May assault by Houthi drones that targeted the kingdom’s crucial East-West Pipeline, a 1,200-kilometer (746-mile) link between its eastern oil fields and the Red Sea. He also mentioned recent explosions on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz that the U.S. blames on Iranian-planted limpet mines. Iran denies being behind those attacks.

“This act of terrorism and sabotage is only an extension of those acts that have recently targeted the global oil supply chains, including oil pipelines in the kingdom, and oil tankers,” al-Falih said. “This cowardly attack once again highlights the importance of the international community’s response to all terrorist actors who carry out such acts of sabotage, including the Houthi militias.”

The oil field at Shaybah is in the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter, a sea of sand where temperatures routinely hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Saudi Aramco on its website refers to the field as “the most remote treasure on Earth,” home to reserves of 14.3 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The field’s distance from rebel-held territory in Yemen demonstrates the range of the Houthis’ drones. U.N. investigators say the Houthis’ new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). That puts Saudi oil fields, an under-construction Emirati nuclear power plant and Dubai’s busy international airport within their range.

Unlike sophisticated drones that use satellites to allow pilots to remotely fly them, analysts believe Houthi drones are likely programmed to strike a specific latitude and longitude and cannot be controlled once out of radio range. The Houthis have used drones, which can be difficult to track by radar, to attack Saudi Patriot missile batteries, as well as enemy troops.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched their war against the Houthis in March 2015 to back the country’s internationally recognized government. The UAE recently began withdrawing troops from the conflict while UAE-allied separatists recently seized the city of Aden, further complicating a war seen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

___

Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Babylon the Great’s Response to the Iranian Tanker

Iran tanker: US issues warrant to seize Grace 1 supertanker – BBC News

Reuters

Grace 1, which is currently anchored in the Strait of Gibraltar, is carrying 2.1m barrels of oil

The US justice department has issued a warrant to seize a detained Iranian oil tanker, a day after a judge in Gibraltar ordered it to be released.

The Grace 1 supertanker, which is carrying 2.1m barrels of oil, was detained on 4 July on suspicion of illegally transporting oil to Syria.

A last-minute legal attempt by the US to keep the tanker detained was rejected by Gibraltar on Thursday.

Iran previously called the detention of Grace 1 an “illegal interception”.

Two weeks after Grace 1 was detained, on 19 July, Iran seized the British flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz.

Although Iran claimed the ship had violated “international maritime rules”, the seizure of Stena Impero was widely believed to be an act of retaliation.

What is the US saying?

The warrant, issued by a US federal court in Washington on Friday, is addressed to “the United States Marshals Service and/or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer”.

It called for the tanker and the oil on board to be seized. It has also ordered the seizure of $995,000 (£818,000) from an account at an unnamed US bank linked to Paradise Global Trading LLC, an Iranian company.

The justice department said the ship and the firm had been involved in violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, bank fraud, money laundering and terrorism forfeiture statutes.

“A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments,” federal prosecutor Jessie Liu said.

She added the parties involved were linked with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US regards as a foreign terrorist organisation.

Although the warrant orders “any” law enforcement officer to seize the tanker and its cargo, it is unlikely to result in any action by the UK or Gibraltarian authorities, according to Prof Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at LSE.

He said: “It would take a great deal of arm-twisting [by the US] to really persuade another Gibraltarian court to take the tanker back.”

What happened in Gibraltar?

Gibraltar’s government said it had received assurances from Iran that Grace 1 would not sail to countries “subject to European Union sanctions” – that is, Syria.

The British territory’s chief minister Fabian Picardo added: “We have deprived the Assad regime in Syria of more than $140m worth of crude oil.”

Video caption Grace 1: Inside the seized supertanker

After a judge ordered the tanker’s release, Mr Picardo earlier told the BBC that the vessel would be able to leave as soon as the logistics had been figured out: “Could be today, could be tomorrow.”

Neither Britain nor Gibraltar have responded to the US warrant.

Babylon the Great Prepares for Iranian Regime Change

Regime change group scores meetings with Trump’s Iran team

A lobbyist for the Iranian opposition met with the State Department’s Iran policy chief as well as top National Security Council and defense officials earlier this year. The latest disclosure form from former US special envoy for nuclear nonproliferation Robert Joseph shows the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) paid him $90,000 to push the group’s regime-change agenda in the six months since he was hired in January. Joseph disclosed two meetings with US Special Representative for IranBrian Hook in March and May and a June meeting with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, Joseph’s successor in President George W. Bush’s State Department. Joseph also met with Richard Goldberg, a former staffer for ex-Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in January soon after Goldberg joined the National Security Council from his perch at the hawkishFoundation for Defense of Democracies. Goldberg has been one of the mainadvocates for ending US waivers for purchases of Iranian oil. Joseph also held three meetings with “think tank representatives” in April and May, but did not identify them or their employer.

Joseph attended the NCRI’s mass gathering last month in Ashraf, Albania, along with other former US officials, but did not disclose any free travel there. Ashraf is home to some 3,000 members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, the main faction under the NCRI umbrella, who were relocated from Iraqafter the US invasion. Tehran considers them terrorists. The meetings come as the Donald Trump administration continues to send mixed signals about its Iran policy, with the president insisting that he’s “not looking for regime change” even as his Treasury Department last month slapped sanctions on Iran’s chief diplomat,Mohammad Javad Zarif

Separately, former Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., and his Rosemont Associates firm disclosed getting paid $60,000 for NCRI lobbying in the second quarter of 2019. Torricelli notably lobbied the State Department regarding the MEK’s resettlement in Albania.

Gibraltar Does not Harm the Oil and the Wine (Revelation 6:6)

CreditCreditJon Nazca/Reuters

LONDON — The authorities in Gibraltar on Thursday released an Iranian oil tanker they impounded six weeks ago, defying a United States request hours earlier to seize the ship. They also released the ship’s crew from detention.

Iran gave no immediate signal on whether it would soon release a British tanker that it had seized in retaliation, but Iranian officials have previously hinted at the possibility of such a trade. An oil trader in Iran who had been briefed on the dispute said that the British ship would be released once the Iranian tanker had reached Greece.

The moves were the latest sign that officials in Gibraltar, a semiautonomous British territory, Tehran and London, in negotiations over the past few weeks, were trying to step back from an escalating confrontation between Iran and the West, particularly the United States.

The Gibraltar government revealed on Thursday morning that the United States had applied to seize the Iranian vessel, Grace 1. The American action was the latest in a series of back-and-forth jabs that the United States and Iran have traded recently, raising fears of escalation into an all-out conflict in the Persian Gulf.

 

 

The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said in a statement on Thursday that he had “received written assurance” from Iran the previous day that “if released, the destination of Grace 1 would not be an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions.”

“In light of the assurances we have received,” he added, “there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention of the Grace 1.”

When asked later in a CNN interview where the ship was headed, Mr. Picardo said, “That is not an issue for the authorities in Gibraltar.”

The oil trader in Iran said the tanker would sail to Greece and then to Italy, though it remained unclear who would buy Iranian oil in defiance of American sanctions. Iranian officials have insisted that the oil was always bound for Europe, not Syria.

The Iranian government said earlier this week that a deal for the release of the ship was near, which officials in Gibraltar and London would neither confirm nor deny at the time. British officials insisted that it was a matter for the Gibraltar authorities.

A court in Gibraltar ruled last month that the Iranian vessel could be held for an additional 30 days, a period that would have expired on Sunday. A follow-up hearing was set for Thursday morning, in which the territory’s government was not expected to ask the court to extend the detention.

But when the court met, Gibraltar officials revealed the United States’ request, and the hearing was adjourned until later in the day.

“The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered,” the Gibraltar government said in a brief statement.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Mr. Picardo said at the time that the Gibraltar authorities would “make an objective, legal determination of that request,” though the point would appear to be moot once the ship sets sail. It was not clear when that would be.

The legal basis for the American request was not immediately clear, but the United States has recently imposed sanctions designed to cut off Iran’s ability to sell oil. Other countries have not signed on to those sanctions, but could face serious economic penalties for defying them.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is himself subject to new American sanctions, described the United States’ request as a “piracy attempt,” writing on Twitter that “the U.S. attempted to abuse the legal system to steal our property on the high seas.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Iranian officials have insisted that Britain and Gibraltar’s seizure of Grace 1 was illegal and was carried out at the behest of the United States.

About 20 percent of the world’s oil supply is carried by tankers through the Strait of Hormuz to destinations around the world.

The area has become a site of contention as tensions have risen between the United States and Iran since President Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and imposed sanctions that have hurt Iran’s economy.

American officials have blamed Iran for attacks in May and June that damaged several tankers in the region. In addition to the Stena Impero, Iran also seized a tanker registered in Panama last month — a vessel chartered by a company in the United Arab Emirates — and later said it had apprehended an Iraqi tanker.

Britain said this month that it would join an American-led mission to protect ships moving through the strait.

On Tuesday, the government of Gibraltar said it was seeking to “de-escalate issues arising since the lawful detention of Grace 1” but provided no details about what, if any, steps had been taken.

While Iran had hinted at an exchange, Dominic Raab, Britain’s new foreign secretary, recently ruled out that possibility, saying that a swap would legitimize the Iranian seizure.

“We are not going to barter a ship that was detained legally with a ship that was detained illegally,” Mr. Raab told Sky News during a summit meeting in Thailand. “That’s not the way that Iran will come in from the cold.”

Building Up the Nuclear Horns of Prophecy (Daniel)

Trump is laying the ground for a nuclear arms race in the Gulf

Trump’s mismanagement of the nuclear issue in the Middle East is damaging the international nonproliferation regime.

by Luciano Zaccara

Over the past three months since the Trump administration imposed severe sanctions on Iran, which have significantly curbed its oil exports and exacerbated its economic crisis, tensions in the Gulf have escalated. Commercial vessels have been attacked, oil tankers seized and drones shot down. Despite these escalations, both sides are holding back and at least in the short-term, an open conflict so far seems unlikely.

In the long-term, however, the highly-problematic approach that the United States has adopted towards the nuclear issue could have devastating consequences. Two recent developments point in that direction.

First, the Trump administration has given a green light to US companies to work on nuclear projects in Saudi Arabia. According to a report recently released by the US Congress Oversight Committee, “with regard to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests.”

The report also stated that the evidence collected and analyzed “raise serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the President’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.”

The White House seems committed to allowing the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology without demanding that Riyadh abide by US legal requirements not to engage in activities that can lead to nuclear proliferation.

Second, in response to mounting pressure from the US, Iran has announced that it is going to backtrack on a number of commitments made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if the international community does not take measures to ameliorate the effects of US sanctions on its economy.

Iran has already stopped complying with limits on the production of enriched uranium and heavy water, invoking articles 26 and 36 of the agreement, which entitle it to do so if the other parties reintroduce nuclear-related sanctions.

Thus, Washington’s incapacity to deal with the Iranian file in a coherent manner, and its erratic policies on nuclear proliferation, are pushing the Middle East towards a dangerous nuclear competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Nuclear ambitions

The nuclear aspirations of both countries are not new. Iran’s nuclear programme began during the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, with the 1967 opening of the Center for Nuclear Research in Tehran along with an experimental 5 MW reactor built using US technology.

One year later, Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and, in 1973, created the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, which drew the first nuclear programme and planned the first nuclear power plant in Bushehr with German technology. A broad nuclear cooperation memorandum between Iran and the US was signed in 1975.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in developing nuclear-related research also started in the 1960s but had modest potential until the late 1970s, when the King Abd Al-Aziz Center for Science and Technology (KAACST) was established in Riyadh and the kingdom started studying the possibility of opening nuclear plants. Saudi Arabia eventually signed the NPT in 1988.

In 2017, under the leadership of King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Riyadh became serious about building a nuclear reactor and started contemplating a tender, which the Americans are now hoping to win.

In the past, there have been allegations that both Iran and Saudi Arabia tried to illicitly acquire nuclear technology from the same provider – Pakistan. In 2007, Iran admitted it purchased blueprints from Pakistani scientist AQ Khan in the 1990s, Saudi Arabia continues to deny the accusation.

Because of these suspicions, both countries have been subjected to inspections by the IAEA. In the case of Saudi Arabia, however, due to the modest size of its nuclear programme, it has had to comply only with the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) during inspections.

By contrast, Iranian facilities have been under heavy scrutiny since the 1990s mainly by the US. This despite the fact that, at times, Iran voluntarily implemented the safeguard agreements reached during nuclear negotiations with the EU-3 between 2003 and 2005, as a confidence-building measure.

Under Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nuclear research began again, which caused the United Nations Security Council to sanction Iran with several resolutions from 2006 to 2012. When President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, Iran’s approach to the nuclear issue changed drastically and it went back to serious negotiations with the US and the European Union.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration considered the possible transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia but ultimately decided not to sign the 123 agreement with Riyadh, after it failed to agree to non-proliferation guarantees.

The success and failure of the Iran nuclear deal

The 2015 JCPOA was meant to dampen Iranian (and indirectly Saudi) nuclear ambitions and bring a peaceful solution to a long-term nuclear controversy through multilateral diplomacy. It, however, failed to reassure Saudi Arabia that the Iranian threat has been subdued.

Many officials, including high ranking members of the Saudi royal family such as the Prince Turki al Faisal, openly criticised the deal and warned that it could trigger a nuclear race in the region.

This narrative was reinforced by the new direction Trump imposed on US foreign policy, legitimising Saudi aspirations for a full nuclear programme and opening the doors for the transfer of sensitive technology that could be used to produce a nuclear device.

It is important to note that, while Iran always denied its interest in having nuclear weapons, despite any real external threat from neighbouring countries or the US, Saudi Arabia’s MBS and other high officials admitted that they would pursue a nuclear weapon if Tehran acquired one.

Iran has been careful about the declared goals of its nuclear programme and, as both the IAEA and US intelligence agencies have confirmed, it has not directed any part of its nuclear research to achieving military goals. However, it is possible that “maximum pressure” from the US and the possibility of a US nuclear technology transfer to Saudi Arabia could motivate some sectors of the political establishment to consider having a military nuclear capacity as a deterrent against any future foreign aggression.

A collapsing nonproliferation regime

With its ill-advised policies in the Gulf, the Trump administration is not only encouraging a nuclear race in the region by allowing Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear technology, but it is also undermining the international non-proliferation regime.

Since nuclear powers agreed in the 1960s to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, there have been a number of cases in which countries – including Israel, India, and Pakistan – have broken international rules in pursuit of nuclearisation and not faced serious consequences.

The double standards applied by the Trump administration have been particularly damaging to international nonproliferation agreements. Trump has pursued normalisation of relations with North Korea – a state that openly tested and detonated nuclear devices – while withdrawing from a nuclear deal with Iran, which was strictly abided by all provisions and was not working on developing a nuclear bomb.

Effectively, the US government destroyed a well-functioning agreement that enjoyed wide international support in order to satisfy the commercial interests of a few individuals close to the White House and give an advantage to one side in the growing regional rivalry in the Middle East.

These actions have thrown the international community into disarray, as now there appears to be no clear consensus on what nuclear activities can be considered a threat, what evidence state actors must present to be regarded as truly committed to nonproliferation and what instruments – legal, economic, or military – should be used to enforce the nonproliferation regulations.

Washington’s unilateral (mis)management of the nuclear issue is endangering the whole nonproliferation regime, weakening any multilateral agreement or negotiation, and leaving solely the White House to decide on how to deal with these abovementioned questions.

In the current volatile situation in the Middle East – with intensifying confrontation along religious, ethnic, territorial and ideological cleavages – the lack of a robust non-proliferation agreement will encourage a nuclear race in the region and increase the chances of pre-emptive military attacks that could lead to large-scale war

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luciano Zaccara

Luciano Zaccara is professor of Gulf Politics at the Qatar University Gulf Studies Center.

The China Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Here Is China’s Plan for a Nuclear War Against America

The major thrust of the article in that issue on the impact of the DF-26 on nuclear strategy seems to be to try to debunk the argument that China’s deployment of this new type of missile is “destabilizing.” Like their American counterparts, Chinese strategists seem to be increasingly practiced (at least in a domestic context) at selling the argument that more and new types of weapons enhance deterrence and thus strategic stability.

When one reads enough Chinese naval literature, diagrams of multi-axial cruise missile saturation attacks against aircraft carrier groups may begin to seem normal. However, one particular graphic from the October 2015 issue (p. 32) of the naval journal Naval & Merchant Ships [舰船知识] stands out as both unusual and singularly disturbing. It purports to map the impact of a Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strike by twenty nuclear-armed rockets against the United States.

Targets include the biggest cities on the East and West Coasts, as well as in the Midwest, as one would expect. Giant radiation plumes cover much of the country and the estimate in the caption holds that the strike “would yield perhaps 50 million people killed” [可能造成5000 万死亡]. The map below that graphic on the same page illustrates the optimal aim point for a hit on New York City with a “blast wave” [火风量] that vaporizes all of Manhattan and well beyond.

That makes the North Korean “threat” look fairly insignificant by comparison, doesn’t it? But what’s really disturbing is that the scenario described above envisions a strike by China’s largely antiquated DF-5 first generation ICBM. In other words, the illustration is perhaps a decade or more out of date. As China has deployed first the road-mobile DF-31, then DF-31A and now JL-2 (a submarine-launched nuclear weapon), China’s nuclear strategy has moved from “assured retaliation” to what one may term “completely assured retaliation.”

Indeed, the actual theme of the article featuring those graphics concerns recent reports regarding testing of the DF-41 mobile ICBM. The author of that article, who is careful to note that his views do not represent those of the publication, observes that when a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson was queried about the test on August 6, 2015, the spokesperson “did not deny that the DF-41 exists” [并没有否认‘东风’41 的存在]. The author also cites U.S. intelligence reports, concluding that four tests have now been conducted, including one that demonstrates multiple-reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology. The author estimates that DF-41 will finally provide China with the capability to launch missiles from north central China and hit all targets in the U.S. (except Florida). With the goal of better understanding the rapidly evolving strategic nuclear balance between China and the U.S. and its significance, this Dragon Eye surveys some recent Mandarin-language writings on the subject of Chinese nuclear forces.

To be sure, a flurry of Chinese writings on the nuclear balance did follow after the September parade in Beijing that highlighted Chinese missile forces. Perhaps the most remarkable revelation from the parade was the unveiling of the DF-26, a new, longer-range anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), based on the revolutionary shorter-ranged cousin, the DF-21D ASBM. In fact, the November 2015 issue of the aforementioned journal ran a series of articles on the DF-26. In those articles, the weapon is described multiple times as a “nuclear conventional dual-purpose” [核常兼备] weapon. The major thrust of the article in that issue on the impact of the DF-26 on nuclear strategy seems to be to try to debunk the argument that China’s deployment of this new type of missile is “destabilizing.” Like their American counterparts, Chinese strategists seem to be increasingly practiced (at least in a domestic context) at selling the argument that more and new types of weapons enhance deterrence and thus strategic stability.

Despite the developments related above, the balance of opinion in Beijing seems impressively moderate on the prospects for a major nuclear buildup by China. In the allegedly nationalist forum of Global Times [环球时报], one commentator from the China Institute for International Studies (associated with the Foreign Ministry), for example, offered a few illuminating comments about a year ago in an expert forum entitled “How Many Nuclear Warheads Are Enough for China?” He is evidently concerned that “We have heard some new voices calling to ‘build a nuclear force appropriate for a great power.’” Instead, he argues that China must continue to focus on building a “small, elite and effective nuclear forces” [精干有效的核力量]. Likewise, a former vice-director of the Chinese Navy Nuclear Security Bureau offers that China is a medium-sized nuclear power, which should learn from the experience of Britain and France and deploy no fewer than four submarines carrying nuclear weapons (SSBNs)—far fewer than operated by either Russia or the United States.

Yet one can still find in that same analysis ample concern among Chinese specialists regarding new directions in U.S. military capabilities that could threaten China’s deterrent. Another concern amply evident in Chinese writings concerns tactical nuclear weaponry. Most of this reporting of late concerns a recent upgrade to the American B-61 nuclear bomb. A full-page graphic in the same issue that discusses the DF-41 missile tests offers many specifics on the B-61, including its “dial-a-yield” [威力可调技术] feature that enables the operator to choose destruction on a scale ranging from fifty to 0.3 kilotons. That same month, in the magazine Aerospace Knowledge [航空知识], a “centerfold” featured the SS-26 Iskander, a Russian short-range tactical nuclear weapon. Elsewhere, I have, moreover, documented Chinese discussions of tactical nuclear weapons for anti-submarine warfare, as well as the importance of nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCMs) for strategy in the late Cold War. Let’s hope that these are just academic discussions in the Chinese context and do not reflect actual weapons under development.

As one can see from this discussion, there is ample reason for anxiety with many new Chinese nuclear systems now coming online, as well as substantial reason for optimism. As an author who frequently rides China’s high-speed rail [高铁], I am acutely aware that astronomical sums of money spent on that system could just as easily have been spent building an enormous arsenal of nuclear weaponry. That was not done and it’s certainly good that Chinese leaders have their priorities straight. American strategists need to keep this Chinese restraint in mind, especially as they weigh both new, expensive weapons systems (missile defense augmentation, the new strategic bomber, SSBN-X and also prompt global strike) and a set of measures to counter Beijing within the maritime disputes on its flanks.

This first appeared several years ago and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

What Will Not Happen: Iran’s Case Against War

Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum PhotosIranian Basij paramilitary forces during an annual reenactment of the Iran–Iraq War at a park in southern Tehran, 2015

Iran: The Case Against War

August 15, 2019 Issue

There is no plausible reason for the United States to go to war with Iran, although the Trump administration appears to be preparing to do so. In mid-May, the Pentagon presented the White House with plans for deploying up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to respond to Iranian attacks on US forces or the acceleration of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

To be sure, the Iranian government is guilty of genuine transgressions against American interests and values. It backs Syria’s brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad. It undermines the security of Israel by organizing and sustaining Shia militias in Syria, supporting the Palestinian extremist group Hamas, and arming the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah. By serving as Iran’s proxy on Israel’s border, Hezbollah exposes Lebanon—long a fragile state—to the risk of Israeli retaliation. Iran has also supported Shia militias in Iraq that in theory answer to the Iraqi prime minister through a special commission, but in practice are outside the national military command structure, which compromises the cohesion and authority of the Iraqi state.

With money and weapons, Iran backs the Houthis, an insurrectionist movement in Yemen that has ousted the elected government and attacked the territory of its Saudi patrons. It has allegedly tried to stir Shia unrest in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, where the US has an important naval base, and in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It is developing ballistic missiles that could threaten its neighbors and—especially if they are capable of carrying nuclear warheads—could provoke an arms race in the region. Iranian authorities detain and jail foreigners, including Americans, on fabricated charges. And the Iranian government oppresses its own people by coercing them into obeying strict religious rules, limiting their political choices, and abusing and imprisoning journalists.

This list of misdeeds served as the pretext for the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal in May 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Iran nuclear deal—and for the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran. The withdrawal made emphatically clear that rollback—coercively reversing any Iranian gains in regional power and influence rather than just containing them, with an eye ultimately toward regime change in Tehran—is the policy that the administration now embraces. It wants to force Iran to curtail its ballistic missile development and its provocations in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen—none of which the JCPOA addresses—as well its nuclear program. Strongly supporting this hard-line position is Saudi Arabia under its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, which has become the United States’ main Arab partner in the Middle East.

Yet Iran had continued to observe the JCPOA’s limits on its nuclear program until recently, when it declared its intention to breach the 3.67 percent uranium enrichment limit stipulated by the agreement and said that it had exceeded the three-hundred-kilogram ceiling for stockpiled fuel. It has not carried out terrorist attacks against Americans in years.1 Its reactions to Israeli strikes on the small forces it maintains in Syria have been subdued. The Shia militias it backs are ragtag, composed mainly of young Afghani, Iraqi, and Syrian fighters. Moreover, in Iraq, militias thought to be aligned with Iran—known as Popular Mobilization Forces—have not come into conflict with US troops and, in the fight against ISIS, were battling a common enemy.

Iran is economically beleaguered and its military is weak, plagued by outdated equipment, a defense-industrial base that cannot supply much of the hardware it needs, and a conscript army that is poorly trained. Its warplanes use 1960s technology. Its navy is essentially a coastal defense force, and its only means of harassing the US Navy are small, lightly armed boats that would use swarming tactics against 105,000-ton Nimitz-class carriers, such as the one deployed to the Persian Gulf in early May, and their strike groups. Iran has virtually no amphibious military capability. It does possess a large inventory of cruise missiles, rockets, and mines, and is capable of disrupting shipping and harming US warships.

Its capacity to project military strength abroad, however, is quite limited. The idea that Iran could dominate, let alone subjugate, the states on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf is risible. Yet the Trump administration, with Saudi Arabia’s encouragement, insists that Iran controls four regional capitals—Damascus, Sana’a, Baghdad, and Beirut—and has designs on others, such as Manama, the capital of Bahrain. This is a variation on the “Shia Crescent” scenario, which acquired currency about fifteen years ago among wary Sunni governments in the region. There is little evidence of its validity. Iran did help save the Assad regime. But this barely restored the status quo ante, while costing Iran considerable money and casualties, and Hezbollah, its local surrogate, large-scale casualties. Furthermore, while Assad may be beholden to Tehran, he must now also answer to Moscow, which decisively intervened after Iran did and has interests in the region that do not easily coincide with Tehran’s. In Yemen, Iran has, through glorified harassment, merely raised the cost to Saudi Arabia and the UAE of controlling Yemeni politics, without enhancing its strategic leverage there because, among other things, its navy cannot operate effectively in the Red Sea.

Iran does have considerable influence in Iraq, but it was the Bush administration’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent elevation of Iraq’s Shia majority to political dominance that facilitated it. Iran also has strong relations with largely Shia political parties and semi-autonomous militias in Iraq. But the US retains much influence there as well, since it not only supports the Iraqi government financially and trains its military but also has a wide range of commercial interests. The government that ultimately emerged in Baghdad from national elections in 2018—led by President Barham Salih, a British-educated Kurdish leader; Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shia economist and intellectual who lived in France for years and attended an American Jesuit school in Baghdad; and Speaker Muhammad al-Halbusi, a former governor of Anbar Province and a supporter of US troops remaining in Iraq—can scarcely be described as Iran’s dream team for Iraq.

It’s true that Iran has for years had a strong foothold in Lebanon and has supplied Hezbollah with a vast arsenal of increasingly sophisticated missiles and rockets, which give Tehran the capacity to attack Israel by proxy. But Hezbollah’s militarization was the product of Israel’s invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982, which was aimed at eliminating the Palestine Liberation Organization. Iran seems to regard Hezbollah’s missile inventory as part of its own strategic deterrent, not to be put at risk for anything short of preventing Iran’s annihilation by Israel. Such an Israeli threat would likely emerge only in response to Iranian aggression or rapid progress toward a nuclear weapon. In this light, Iran’s long-standing influence in Lebanon melds self-protection with strategic expansion. Critics often point to Iranian assistance to Hamas, but it has been relatively modest, mainly financial and political, and essentially symbolic. Iran’s support for Palestinian militants and its other marginal challenges to regional stability are manageable and do not strategically threaten Israel, the United States, or its Gulf Arab partners.

Are there real as opposed to perceived Iranian threats to the United States and its allies and partners? There is some truth to the allegation that Iran provides safe haven for jihadists who crossed the border from Afghanistan when the US ground campaign there seemed to stall in 2003, despite the fact that the overall thrust of Iranian security policy is to thwart Sunni jihadism wherever it appears, especially in Syria and Iraq. Former US director of national intelligence James Clapper referred to this tactical cooperation as a “longstanding…shotgun marriage or marriage of convenience.” A recently released compendium of declassified documents captured in the US raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden makes clear the abiding mistrust between the two sides and the miserable conditions that al-Qaeda operatives have endured as guests of Iran.

Washington did, of course, identify a strategic threat in Iran’s nuclear research effort, which had advanced fitfully since the time of the shah’s rule. But the JCPOA could manage that problem at least until 2030, when the caps on fuel stockpiles and enrichment levels expire, and probably well beyond then, given that the International Atomic Energy Agency is to continue intrusive inspections indefinitely under the terms of the agreement. These inspections would make a breakout to nuclear capability thereafter a highly risky proposition for Iran. If American provocations, including its disavowal of the JCPOA, push Iran to jump-start its nuclear program, again the US will have only itself to blame. In view of America’s superior military capabilities and Tehran’s circumspection, that possibility had appeared unlikely until the most recent tightening of sanctions. Though Iran has now exceeded negotiated limits on uranium enrichment, it has not threatened to reach weapons-grade level. In an impressive display of illogic, the White House promptly declared, in effect, that its withdrawal from the JCPOA and resumption of sanctions were warranted by the Iranian response to those actions.

The situation is becoming increasingly volatile. National Security Adviser John Bolton broadly favors the threat and use of military force to implement US policy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo harbors a profound conviction that in opposing Iran and embracing Israel he is an instrument of God’s will, having pledged to continue such efforts until “the rapture.”2 The Trump administration’s stated reason for “maximum pressure” on Iran through sanctions is to force Tehran back into negotiations to limit its ballistic missile program and destabilizing regional activities. But given the high degree of mistrust that the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA has generated in Tehran, that rationale can only be read as disingenuous.

John Bolton; drawing by John Springs

In effect, Bolton and Pompeo have repurposed sanctions—normally conceived as an alternative to armed conflict—as the means to provoke a war. Even if sanctions fail—as they so far have—to force Iran’s oil exports down to zero, cripple its economy, and create internal strife on a scale large enough to topple the Iranian government, they could nevertheless provoke Iran to directly counterattack American targets in the region, which would give Washington a casus belli to pursue regime change through force. The suspected Iranian attacks in June on a Japanese tanker and a Norwegian tanker in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz, and Iran’s subsequent shooting down of an unmanned US surveillance drone, suggest how easily this scenario could develop.

It is less probable but still plausible that Tehran’s intransigence could lead Trump to declare victory, based on a real or imagined turn of events favoring the United States, as has happened in his relationship with Kim Jong-un, or on a deescalation of the conflict, hinted at by Trump’s observation that the June attacks on the tankers were not all that important, since the US does not rely on Saudi oil. Trump’s response to the drone’s destruction revealed both his impulsiveness and his tendency to back off. Initially, he vowed threateningly that Iran would “find out” what would happen when it attacks American assets and ordered US Central Command to prepare to strike three Iranian sites in retaliation. Later, however, he noted that the shootdown of the drone had caused no fatalities and suggested that some “loose and stupid” Iranian officer might have “made a big mistake.” Whether the drone was in Iranian airspace, as Tehran claimed, or international airspace, as Washington maintained, remains unclear. Bolton, Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel apparently favored retaliation, while the Pentagon counseled restraint. With aircraft and warships reportedly in position to attack, Trump called off the strikes.

His tweeted explanation was that a high number of potential Iranian fatalities made the planned response “not proportionate” to the downing of an unmanned drone. An unnamed source told The New York Times that the president also thought the rapid shift gave him the bearing of a decisive and discriminating commander. Yet the essential takeaway from this episode is that Trump lacks a coherent policy with a clear desired outcome. In another mixed message and inadvertent swipe at Bolton, the administration’s nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, dismissed congressional concern that a preoccupation with Iran would distract the US from serious threats posed by China and Russia, saying, “I don’t think anyone is seriously considering anything approaching [deploying 150,000 US troops].”

It is conceivable that Trump could try to rebrand the JCPOA with marginal changes as his own improved deal—much as he did with NAFTA—and try to entice Iran into renewed negotiations. On July 16, he seized on Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s off-the-cuff remark that the door to negotiations was “wide open” should the US drop existing sanctions, claiming that “a lot of progress” had been made in nonexistent talks between Washington and Tehran. Iran immediately rejected this outlandish claim. Given its heightened mistrust of the United States, any new agreement would be highly unlikely. But no one should discount the power of ego and appearances in dictating Trump’s moves. It remains impossible to tell whether the administration actually intends to go to war, is merely engaging in coercive diplomacy, or is adrift in a sea of miscues. It may not matter. In a maelstrom of probes and provocations, strategic intention may give way to heedless reaction.

The White House has reinforced this possibility by doing away with the systematic interagency process conducted by the National Security Council that has traditionally built consensus on foreign policy and, even given the constraint of secrecy, allowed reasonable transparency about how that policy is formulated. George W. Bush was the last president to jettison the policy coordination process, and it resulted in the long and bloody occupation of Iraq.

This time, zealous ideologues—mainly Bolton and Pompeo—are implementing the “maximum pressure” policy without sufficient knowledge of their adversary to confidently control risks. Ironically, it has been Trump who has constrained them. That is not due to any superior knowledge or discretion: Trump is even more ignorant about world affairs and scornful of protocol, process, and custom than his advisers. It is simply that a protracted war would cut against the isolationist cast of his “America First” vision and, if it went wrong, diminish his chances for reelection. To the extent he needs a war to mobilize his base, he has one on the southern border, to which he has deployed military units, and where the enemy cannot shoot back.

If tensions continue or increase, those advisers could still prevail. Trump’s Middle East policy hinges on demonstrating to Israel and Saudi Arabia his determination to roll back Iran in the region, and Trump at war—as long as the US doesn’t lose too many troops or get bogged down in combat—would play well to his domestic base. The Pentagon is considering dispatching more warships and combat aircraft and an additional six thousand troops to the Middle East, the first group of which has been authorized. Both the 1991 and 2003 interventions in Iraq demonstrated that as operational momentum toward war builds, it becomes politically more difficult to resist.

At this stage, Tehran’s national security decision-making appears more orderly and transparent than Washington’s. While sometimes disingenuously characterizing activities such as intervention in Syria and Yemen as vital to Iranian deterrence—clearly they are efforts to preserve and expand Iran’s regional influence—Iranian officials across the board consider them none of the US’s business. They differ on the nuclear deal, however. For over a year following the United States’ disavowal of the JCPOA, moderates aligned with President Hassan Rouhani were able to persuade Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Iran should continue to abide by it in order to drive a wedge between the US and the European signatories—who remain in the deal—and isolate the US. The idea was that Iran could wait for a Democratic administration to rejoin the JCPOA.

But the Europeans’ inability or unwillingness to circumvent US secondary sanctions forcing other countries not to buy Iranian oil and goods, and the unpredictability of American electoral politics, appear to have eroded and altered the moderates’ position. The Obama administration’s accomplishment in negotiating the JCPOA was to sidestep Khamenei’s deep-seated hostility toward the US and Israel, which had until then proven an implacable obstacle to US diplomacy. The Trump administration has managed to weaken the pragmatic restraint of the hard-line leadership while turning Iranian moderates into hard-liners.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)—the elite, secretive, and proactive element of the Iranian military that the State Department designated a foreign terrorist organization in April despite objections from the Pentagon—looks to be regaining the upper hand. Even the moderate and cosmopolitan Zarif, who negotiated the nuclear deal and established cordial working relationships with US officials while emphasizing his loyalty to the clerical regime, has labeled US sanctions “economic terrorism.” The IRGC has also reissued its customary threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil passes. Such a move would be a last resort; it would send oil prices through the roof and almost certainly prompt retaliatory US action. By using Houthi proxies, Iran could less provocatively target oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, another chokepoint on the other side of Saudi Arabia at the entrance to the Red Sea. But an escalation of this kind would not necessarily serve Houthi interests, and they would probably balk.

That Iran would see fit to lash out rather than capitulate should come as no surprise, as there is clear precedent for it. In 1995 the Clinton administration was engaged in a full-court press to cut off Iran from its trading partners and extend the territorial reach of US unilateral sanctions, while isolating Iran diplomatically. American diplomats and intelligence officers were circling the globe in an effort to convince allies that Iran had to be punished because of its assassination campaign, which targeted opposition figures, and other nefarious provocations, such as Hezbollah’s attacks on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992 and a Jewish community center there in 1994. Tehran’s response was to use Saudi Hezbollah in 1996 to detonate a truck bomb outside Khobar Towers, a residential complex housing US soldiers deployed in Saudi Arabia to enforce the southern no-fly zone against Iraq. Nineteen US Air Force personnel and one Saudi national were killed, and 498 others of various nationalities were injured.

While the Khobar attack was one reason for Riyadh’s eventual decision to push US air operations out of Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia—these had to be relocated to Qatar—the larger point is that Iran is predisposed to respond defiantly to concerted American attempts to cripple it. Neither government might, on balance, really want war. But concerns about reputation and credibility, the risk of spontaneous clashes between US and Iranian forces, the provocations of proxies, or poorly calculated brinkmanship might cause one. These prospects are doubly worrying because the degree of mutual antipathy and distrust between the two adversaries and the absence of lines of diplomatic communication would make it exceedingly difficult for them to reverse course.

The similarities between the current situation and the prelude to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2002–2003 are unmistakable. A pugnacious and insecure US president obsessed with a government he has demonized is unconstrained due to a disrupted interagency process and a Congress paralyzed by a cowed and craven Republican Party. On June 28, the Republican-controlled Senate voted down a bipartisan bill that would have required Trump to get Congress’s permission before striking Iran. Although on July 12 the House approved a defense bill that included the requirement, it is not likely to survive reconciliation in the Senate. Sycophantic advisers and inordinately influential foreign powers insist that he can remake a region purportedly forsaken by his despised liberal predecessor. It is probably lost on Bolton and Pompeo—and certainly on Trump—that the US intervention in Iraq ended up increasing Iranian influence there and elsewhere in the region. It may also be lost on them that a war with Iran could be even more disastrous than the war in Iraq.

One of the sycophants, Senator Tom Cotton, has compared developments in the Gulf to the 1984–1988 tanker war, in which Iran picked off Kuwaiti ships ferrying Iraq’s oil to market, while Iraq bombarded Iranian cities and oil terminals and gassed Iranian troops. Kuwait cajoled the Reagan administration into reflagging and escorting its vessels in 1987. The following spring, an Iranian mine disabled and nearly sank the USS Samuel B. Roberts. This precipitated a US–Iran shooting match in which American attacks disabled several Iranian warships. It also led to the inadvertent destruction in 1988 of an Iranian airliner by a confused US missile crew aboard the USS Vincennes, killing 290 civilians. The most strategically significant aspect of this confrontation, however, was Reagan’s self-control. Even when a US warship was attacked, resulting in US casualties, he refrained from striking Iranian territory and even forced out a high-ranking US commander for planning to do so. Restraint is the real lesson of the tanker war, but Republican hawks are unlikely to heed it.

The administration appears to be dusting off the tanker war concept and pressuring European allies to join the US Navy in protecting oil tankers from attack, though maritime operations would fall short of close individual escorts.3 If the administration were to take a harder look at the tanker war, it might observe that Iran, while still vastly weaker than the United States, is in a better position to resist now than it was thirty years ago, when it had been drained by the long war of attrition with Iraq. Although economically anemic today, it is not bankrupt. And thanks to the Trump administration’s abrupt withdrawal from the JCPOA and its humiliations of European allies, Tehran is less isolated diplomatically. Furthermore, it possesses old-style asymmetric means of response, such as terrorism, and new ones, including cyber capabilities and missiles.4 A tit-for-tat exchange of attacks and counterattacks could widen and intensify the conflict. Iran, for example, could retaliate against US partners in the Gulf. For the US, the escalation could ultimately reach so-called Iranian “leadership targets.”

In the worst case, the United States would launch something along the lines of Operation Iranian Freedom, invading and occupying the country. US forces would initially suppress Iran’s air defenses, target its shore batteries and missile launchers, damage communication networks, strike the headquarters of security services that keep the population under control, and cripple if not destroy hardened nuclear-related facilities with deep-penetrating “bunker-busting” bombs. If occupying Tehran became the American objective, US ground forces would overwhelm the Iranian army and oust the regime by forcing it to flee or killing its top officials with a lucky missile strike.

But the US experience in Iraq would hover ominously over any similar undertaking in Iran. Iran is appreciably larger than Iraq in both territory and population, so gaining control of the country and winning popular support would be all the more difficult. While Iraq’s military was handily defeated, Sunni groups reinforced by volunteers from elsewhere in the Arab world and Shia militias indirectly supported by Iran bled US forces for nearly a decade. US forces within Iran would presumably be exposed to such guerrilla tactics, which while not decisive, drive up the cost of intervention and weaken public support for the war at home. The disorder created by a US invasion would leave Iran open to internecine warfare among its ethnic minorities—Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis, Zoroastrians, and Arabs—portending the fragmentation that worried US intelligence during the Iran–Iraq War. Furthermore, the Marxist guerrilla movement Mujahideen-e Khalq would likely angle for increased influence in a new political situation. Displaced persons within Iran or crossing into neighboring countries as refugees would present a humanitarian challenge comparable to Syria’s. US military planners think in these systematic terms, and they need to keep reminding the president, who has declared that a war with Iran would be short, that long wars begin with the conviction that they will be short.

Only effective resistance to and evasion of US sanctions by European countries, which they are unable to marshal, could induce Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal. Even so, they still oppose Trump’s Iran policy and would not support military operations, especially if they believed the war was instigated by the US. Washington would find it hard to cobble together a coalition of the willing worthy of the name. Even if the Pentagon were to pull General David Petraeus’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual off the shelf and acquire a taste and talent for nation-building that it has never really had, prospects for successfully forging a stable, US-friendly government in Iran would be less than dim. And the conflict wouldn’t wind down until long after it had caused chaos in the region and strategically isolated the United States.5

This crisis, like others involving Iran, was made mainly in the US. Moreover, the Iranian responses the Trump administration has provoked will make it harder for Democrats keen on reestablishing better relations with Iran to support rejoining the nuclear deal without requiring additional concessions on Iranian missile development and regional activity, which Iran in turn is less likely to consider. Thus the Trump administration has not only adopted an inflexible and destabilizing posture with no easy alternative,6 it has also significantly limited the options of its successor.

At this point, even senior Israeli officials—who have backed the United States’ aggressive courtship of Saudi Arabia and confrontation with Iran—have become concerned about American bellicosity and myopia, and are loath to be seen as encouraging a US–Iran military confrontation.7 The Israelis have no doubt started to consider the long-term regional impact of a war between the US and Iran. Their change of heart should be a warning that US policy is spinning out of control.

—July 17, 2019

1 During the surge in the Iraq War, Shia militias killed over six hundred American soldiers, many with explosives made in Iran. Since these were battlefield attacks on uniformed combatants, most analysts do not define them as terrorism. ↩

2 See, for instance, Edward Wong, “The Rapture and the Real World: Mike Pompeo Blends Beliefs and Policy,” The New York Times, March 30, 2019. ↩

3 At his confirmation hearing for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on July 11, General Mark Milley indicated that assembling a coalition to conduct escort operations to enforce freedom of navigation would take a matter of weeks, and that such operations would extend to all commercial shipping rather than just US-flagged vessels. ↩

4 See Steven Simon, “What Trump Can Learn from Reagan About War with Iran,” Politico, June 18, 2019. ↩

5 See Robert Gaines and Scott Horton, “Attacking Iran Would Unleash Chaos on the Middle East,” and Ilan Goldenberg, “What a War with Iran Would Look Like,” Foreign Affairs, June 4, 2019. ↩

6 Former national security adviser Susan Rice has decorously offered a sensible option involving robust bilateral diplomacy that would establish reciprocal steps toward deescalation, culminating in direct talks on extending and strengthening the JCPOA, but there is virtually no chance that the Trump administration would follow her advice. See her “How Did We Get 10 Minutes from War with Iran?,” The New York Times, June 23, 2019.  ↩

7 See, for instance, Amos Harel, “Oman Attack: Why Israel Remains Mum as Accusations Against Iran Abound,” Haaretz, June 16, 2019. ↩

The Antichrist is Winning the Peace in Iraq

9b54cd9f-6714-424e-a36a-c286c01badfc

Winning the Peace in Iraq

Don’t Give Up on Baghdad’s Fragile Democracy

For Americans who came of age near the turn of the current century, the war in Iraq was a generation-defining experience. When the United States invaded the country in 2003, toppling the government of Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks, many saw the war as a necessary or even noble endeavor to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam was allegedly developing—and bring democracy to parts of the world that had long suffered under the weight of tyranny.

By the time U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, such illusions had been shattered. The conflict had cost the United States $731 billion, claimed the lives of at least 110,000 Iraqis and nearly 5,000 U.S. troops, and done lasting damage to Washington’s international reputation. The invasion had sparked a virulent insurgency that was only barely quelled by 2011, and which resurfaced following the U.S. withdrawal, when a vicious jihadist group calling itself the Islamic State (or ISIS) seized an area the size of Iceland in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Most Americans who have been to Iraq remember car bombs and streets lined with ten-foot-tall concrete blast walls. For those who have never been, Iraq is less a place than a symbol of imperial hubris—a tragic mistake that they would prefer to forget.

Yet Iraq today is a different country. Few Americans understand the remarkable success of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. campaign to defeat ISIS. Some 7,000 U.S. troops (and 5,000 more from 25 countries in the anti-ISIS coalition) provided support to Iraq’s army and local partners in Syria, who fought to free their towns, cities, and provinces from ISIS’ brutal grip. By the time these U.S.-backed forces had ejected ISIS from its final territorial stronghold, in Syria, in March of this year, the campaign had liberated 7.7 million people at the relatively modest cost of $31.2 billion. Today, Iraqi schools are open, Baghdad’s nightlife is vibrant, and security checkpoints have been removed. Last May, the country held largely free and fair nationwide parliamentary elections. Its population is young and forward-looking, and its government is back on its feet.

The United States has an opportunity to convert this momentum into a long-term geopolitical gain. Unfortunately, many Americans are so weary of their country’s involvement in Iraq that they fail to recognize the opportunity to salvage a positive outcome there that is far better than what anyone hoped to achieve even a few years ago. Many U.S. officials, meanwhile, are more focused on treating Iraq as an arena for combating Iran. They argue that, in the aftermath of ISIS’ defeat, Iraq has become an unreliable ally and even a proxy of Tehran. Worse, they appear willing to sacrifice the U.S. relationship with Baghdad—and put at risk the relative success that Iraq has become—in service of their campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran.

This approach would be a mistake. Cutting off U.S. support right when Baghdad has managed to achieve a modicum of stability would risk the hard-won gains of recent years, especially during Operation Inherent Resolve. And a confrontational U.S. policy toward Iraq would fan the dying embers of sectarianism at precisely the moment when the country is emerging as a stable, nonsectarian democracy. Worse, it would strengthen Iran’s hand in Iraq and provide ISIS with the chance it needs to rebuild. The only way the United States can achieve its goals—preventing ISIS’ return and ending Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq—is by working through and with Baghdad

Iraq’s future looks brighter today than it has at any point in the past decade. Its progress can be largely attributed to two factors: the country’s recent evolution away from Shiite-Sunni sectarianism and the coalition’s victory over ISIS.

Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections marked a maturation of Iraq’s democracy. These were the first elections in which sectarianism took a back seat to issues of good governance and the daily concerns of Iraqis. A range of parties formed cross-sectarian or nonsectarian coalitions to compete for votes; none of them emerged dominant. Instead, the election produced a number of parliamentary blocs that must bargain with one another to get anything done. The current government relies on consensus and is led by two politicians with a history of working with the United States: Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih. When the government took office in October 2018, it marked Iraq’s fourth successive peaceful transfer of power.

The 2018 elections were a demonstration of Iraqis’ priorities. The alliance that won the most votes, the Sairoon (Marching Toward Reform) coalition, was led by followers of the populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the erstwhile leader of a militia that fought U.S. troops from 2004 to 2008. Although Sadr studied and once sought refuge in Iran, he is also a vocal nationalist who wants to ensure Iraq’s independence from both Washington and Tehran. Many Iraqis consider today’s creeping Iranian influence to be an affront to their country’s sovereignty, and during the campaign, Sadr persuasively positioned his bloc as the independent alternative to the one led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (which was seen as too pro-American) and the one led by Hadi al-Ameri (which was seen as too close to Iran).

Even more important than Sadr’s emphasis on independence was his decision to champion bread-and-butter economic and governance issues. Sadr has long enjoyed support among poor Shiites thanks to his years spent demanding improved public services and a crackdown on Iraq’s egregious corruption. Although many Iraqis benefit from entrenched party patronage—some 60 percent of employed Iraqis are on the public payroll—they are fed up with politicians siphoning millions of dollars from the public coffers. Recognizing this frustration, Sadr called for the removal of corrupt officials and an upgrading of public services, especially electricity. After the election, he insisted on the appointment of technically competent cabinet ministers instead of politicians as a condition of his support for the government, which has largely occurred.

The demand for improved governance has moved to the fore now that Iraq has finally emerged from its vicious, five-year battle against ISIS. In 2014, the terrorist group swept across northern and western Iraq, capturing roughly one-third of the country’s territory, including Mosul, its second-largest city. Iraq’s military and police forces, corroded by years of political interference and corruption, all but disintegrated in the face of ISIS’ offensive. Some Sunnis, alienated by years of sectarian governance under the Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, welcomed ISIS forces as liberators. By the summer of 2014, many feared that the group would take Baghdad.

Iraq’s future looks brighter today than it has at any point in the past decade.

Alarmed by ISIS’ advance, Iran was the first country to come to Baghdad’s aid—by June, it had begun sending aid, equipment, and advisers from the Quds Force, a unit of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Then, in September 2014, Maliki stepped down in favor of Abadi, a pro-U.S. moderate who worked to soothe Sunni fears of persecution. That same month, the United States formed a global coalition to defeat ISIS. Washington and its coalition partners provided Iraq with military assistance in the form of training, equipment, battlefield advisers, and air power. But it was the Iraqis who did the fighting.

The fact that the Iraqis provided most of the troops to defeat ISIS in Iraq was essential to restoring the country’s morale. The government did receive outside help—Iran backed Iraqi Shiite militias, and Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, became a ubiquitous presence in Iraq during the war. Yet the major military gains in the anti-ISIS campaign were made, with coalition assistance, by the Iraqi army and especially the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, an elite, nonsectarian force funded, trained, and supported by the United States since 2003.

UNSTEADY PROGRESS

Iraq has defeated ISIS on the battlefield, but it has not yet won the peace. The country now faces the massive task of reconstruction. The Iraqi government, assisted by the UN Development Program and the U.S.-led coalition, has returned basic services to places such as eastern Mosul, which was devastated by heavy fighting in 2016 and 2017. But western Mosul and other areas still resemble the bombed-out cities of Europe at the end of World War II.

At an international donor conference last year, Iraq secured some $30 billion in aid, loan, and credit pledges. Yet the government has estimated that recovery and reconstruction could cost as much as $88 billion. The task will take a decade or more, provided the Iraqi government and international donors remain committed to rebuilding Sunni areas. Without consistent progress in this effort, hope will wane and discontent will grow. Already, there are worrying signs that the momentum for ensuring Iraq’s stabilization and security has begun to stall. If it does, it could augur a return to a full-blown insurgency.

In the year and a half since December 2017, when Abadi declared Iraq’s liberation from ISIS, three million internally displaced people have returned to their homes in Iraq. But 1.6 million Iraqis, most of them Sunnis, are still displaced. The International Organization for Migration estimates that most of the remaining displaced people have now been so for over three years—a tipping point that the organization and other refugee experts say threatens permanent displacement. Many of these people are shunned by their fellow Iraqis, who suspect them of having supported ISIS.

The risk is that the resulting tensions could reignite sectarian conflict, drawing disaffected Sunnis—especially permanently displaced ones—back into the arms of ISIS. The group has already begun to reawaken, as former fighters drift back to their homes, forming sleeper cells in cities or creating rural safe havens in the Iraqi and Syrian deserts. Although ISIS attacks have declined since the destruction of the territorial caliphate, the group claims to be carrying out several dozen attacks and inflicting some 300 casualties every week, most of them in Iraq and Syria, a tally that roughly parallels those of outside observers.

PRESSURE DROP

Despite the progress it has made in recent years, Iraq is in a delicate position. The United States should be doing what it can to not only ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS but also assist Baghdad with the difficult work of reconstruction. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, however, U.S. policy toward Iraq has become increasingly confrontational, as the administration has made Iraq a central battleground in its fights with Iran.

Trump has presented Iraq with two demands that will be difficult for the country to meet. In November 2018, as part of its sanctions policy, Washington ordered Iraq to cease importing electricity and natural gas (which is used to make electricity) from Iran. In principle, Baghdad agrees with the goal of achieving energy independence. But in practice, Iraq currently receives about 40 percent of its electricity supply from Iran. As Luay al-Khatteeb, Iraq’s electricity minister, explained to U.S. officials in December, finding alternate energy sources will require rebuilding Iraq’s decrepit power grid and addressing the damage done by decades of war, mismanagement, and corruption—a project that he estimates will take at least two years. The United States has issued a series of 90-day waivers, most recently in June, to give Iraq time to comply. But if the administration stops granting waivers and Iranian imports are halted, the resulting electricity blackouts will certainly cause Basra and other Iraqi cities to erupt in violent protests, as they did last summer in response to power shortages.

The United States has also demanded that Iraq disband several Shiite militias with close ties to Iran. These militias are not a new problem: in 2009, Washington designated the most powerful Iranian-created militia, Kataib Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization for its attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq; the group and its leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were also subject to U.S. sanctions targeting insurgents and militias. But over the past five years, the issue has become far more complex. In June 2014, a wave of mostly Shiite volunteers responded to a call from Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to help defend the country against ISIS. Hundreds of small militia groups formed, and in 2016, these groups were formally recognized under Iraqi law as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF. The Iraqi government office set up to oversee the PMF, the Popular Mobilization Committee, became a conduit for Iranian influence, with Muhandis serving as the committee’s deputy chair.

Washington has called on Baghdad to disband both the PMF and militia groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, which it often treats as essentially indistinguishable. The Iraqi government agrees that the militias should be broken up but understands that, given Iran’s clout, doing so will take some time and deft maneuvering. One aspect of that maneuvering will be to distinguish Iranian-backed militias from groups of Shiite volunteers who were largely motivated by patriotism. Many PMF fighters have already gone home, but over 100,000 remain on the government’s payroll. Some groups have become entrenched and are allegedly involved in extortion and other illegal activities.

The Iraqi constitution bans political militias—a provision that has wide popular support. In addition, Abdul-Mahdi issued a decree in July 2019 that called on all entities bearing arms to be incorporated into the armed forces. As the PMF is already legally part of Iraq’s armed forces, this decree could serve as a vehicle for dissolving the Iranian-backed militias—something Abadi had sought to do with a previous order. Carrying out this decree, however, will require building a powerful coalition in parliament, likely with the Sadrists in the lead.

The PMF is a separate issue. It is unlikely to be disbanded outright. Thanks to the PMF’s achievements in the anti-ISIS campaign, it is politically popular, especially among Shiites. The problem is that the PMF’s official role is redundant, overlapping with that of the Ministry of the Interior’s police force, which already struggles to attract enough qualified recruits. Since PMF fighters receive the same pay and benefits as police officers, they have little incentive to join the federal police. This issue can be best addressed over time, as part of an effort to professionalize the entire armed forces of Iraq.

Instead of engaging with their Iraqi colleagues to find workable solutions, however, officials in the Trump administration seem intent on alienating them. Senior U.S. policymakers apparently believe that Iraqis are hostile to the United States, ungrateful for its help, and beholden to Iran. When I spoke to one U.S. diplomat recently, he noted that almost one-third of Iraq’s current parliamentarians had been detained by U.S. forces at some point before 2011. The implication was that they could not be trusted. But since 2003, the United States has often worked with former combatants in Iraq and encouraged their reintegration into mainstream politics. Abadi’s interior minister, Qasim al-Araji, was a former U.S. detainee, yet he worked closely with the U.S. coalition to coordinate the counter-ISIS campaign. Washington has cooperated with Ameri, who is the leader of the pro-Iranian Badr Organization, for years.

The administration’s statements and actions have affronted Iraqis by appearing to ignore their sovereignty, which is still a sore subject for a country the United States invaded. In February, Trump asserted in a Face the Nation interview that he planned on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq to “watch” Iran. This touched a nerve—the Iraqi government welcomes the presence of U.S. troops for the express purposes of defeating ISIS and helping improve its armed forces, but its policy is to maintain good relations with both Washington and Tehran. Trump’s statement drew rebukes from Iraq’s prime minister, its president, and Sistani. Then, on May 7, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi leaders and publicly demanded assurances that they would protect Americans against any hostile activity, implicitly from Iran. A few days later, the State Department ordered all nonessential personnel to leave the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after a mortar fell nearby. Since then, two locations where U.S. personnel are stationed have been targeted by rockets, likely fired by Iranian-backed militias.

The mortar and rocket attacks were reminders of the bad old days of the U.S. occupation, when rockets landed near the embassy with some regularity, as well as troubling signs that U.S. troops could be targeted as Washington increases its pressure on Tehran. Yet the United States should be working with the Iraqi government, which desperately wants to avoid a confrontation with Iran, rather than treating it with disdain. The Trump administration’s moves were widely seen as overreactions by U.S. and coalition officials in Iraq, who for the past four years have been quietly working to mitigate the threat posed by Iranian-backed militias and who are confident in their ability to protect U.S. troops. For most Iraqis—and for many coalition officials, too—Pompeo’s demand came across less as a genuine response to a security threat and more as an unnecessary attempt to humiliate Baghdad.

Washington is putting the Iraqi government in a difficult position. It will appear weak to Iraqis if it does not resist American browbeating. And the more confrontational Washington’s stance becomes, the more that pro-U.S. Iraqi politicians will be discredited in the eyes of their fellow citizens. The Trump administration’s approach thus risks driving Iraq into the arms of Iran—the opposite of its stated goal. Worse, an Iraqi government forced to lean on Tehran would once again alienate Sunnis, paving the way for a return of sectarianism and even a resurgence of ISIS.

Sadr at a mosque in Baghdad, December 2015

Alaa al-Marjani / Reuters

COUNTERING IRAN, WINNING IRAQ

With Iraq at a critical point in its transition to a stable and secure democracy, U.S. actions can either help ensure this transition’s success or fundamentally jeopardize its prospects. As this opportunity may be short lived, Washington should act quickly to seize it. It should focus its security assistance and diplomatic efforts on coordinating with the Iraqi government to make certain that there is a successful conclusion to the counter-ISIS campaign—one that will not only eliminate the last remnants of the group but also address the grievances that drove its success in the first place. At the same time, the United States should work behind the scenes with Baghdad to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq. Finally, the United States should help integrate Iraq into a set of long-term bilateral, multilateral, and regional partnerships.

Continued security assistance to Iraq will be necessary to ensure that ISIS’ nascent efforts to make a comeback do not succeed. The Iraqi security forces are on the mend, but further professionalization of the army and the police force is needed to prevent these forces from unraveling again. A combination of U.S. aid and diplomacy can guarantee that Iraq’s war-damaged areas are rebuilt and that its 1.7 million displaced citizens find homes while resisting ISIS’ blandishments. Washington should also consider pressing Baghdad to revise or eliminate its de-Baathification law, which still subjects Sunnis to unfair treatment.

To ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, the United States will also need to more actively grapple with the difficult problem of ISIS foreign fighters detained in Syria. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are currently holding over 2,000 foreign fighters, but as the SDF is a nongovernmental entity, this is not a permanent solution. The U.S. government should push for one of two solutions: an international tribunal to try these detainees or a coordinated international effort to have them transferred to and tried, or at least held, in their countries of origin.

Despite the progress it has made in recent years, Iraq is in a delicate position.

The United States must also adopt an approach to reducing Iran’s negative influence in Iraq that will help stabilize the region, rather than corner the Iraqi government and force it to choose between Washington and Tehran. Iraqi nationalism is the ultimate hedge against Iran’s overweening ambitions; no Iraqi wishes for his or her country to become a pawn of Iran. Yet the United States must make sure that the sovereignty card is played against Tehran and not against Washington. Issuing public demands to Baghdad is counterproductive—pressure must be exerted behind closed doors, and savvy coalitions must be built to empower Iraqis to limit Iranian encroachment. That said, Iran is and will remain one of Iraq’s major trading partners, its primary source of tourism revenue, and a much larger and more powerful country forever on its borders. Only a web of countervailing influence from the United States, Europe, and the Arab world will secure Iraqi sovereignty.

The United States has all the tools to help Iraq succeed, and it is manifestly in Washington’s interest to do so. A strong, independent, and democratic Iraq will be a boon to U.S. interests in the Middle East. As the largest Shiite-majority Arab country, Iraq can serve as a bridge between the region’s Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Persians. As a neighbor and former rival of Iran, Iraq can also act as a brake on Tehran’s regional ambitions—provided that it is in a position to look after its own security needs.

A more consolidated Iraqi democracy will also make fewer demands on the United States. Iraq has the fifth-largest oil reserves in the world, which should provide it with the resources to care for its own people. The country is also, finally, beginning to restore diplomatic and commercial ties with the Gulf states, which had withered after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Saudi Arabia has reopened its embassy in Baghdad, resumed commercial airline service to Iraq, provided the country with reconstruction aid, and welcomed Abdul-Mahdi and Sadr to Riyadh. In April, Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion in investment to Iraq, and it has offered to sell Baghdad electricity at a discount to help wean the country off Iranian energy.

The basic architecture for a mutually beneficial U.S.-Iraqi relationship already exists. After the 2007 U.S. troop surge, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker worked with Salih, who was then deputy prime minister, and Salih’s fellow Kurd, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, to develop the Strategic Framework Agreement, which called on Washington and Baghdad to deepen their relationship from a security partnership to one spanning cultural, economic, educational, and scientific ties. Thus far, the United States has focused on winning contracts for U.S. businesses and gaining more visas as implicit preconditions for other forms of engagement. This is a mistake. Instead, the United States should see the broad implementation of the agreement as a chance to use U.S. soft power—in the form of investment, trade, tourism, and educational and scientific exchanges—to draw Washington and Baghdad closer together.

Building Up the South Korean Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8)

U.S. B-1 bomber, center, flies over Osan Air Base with U.S. jets in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

US Military Experts Propose Sharing Nuclear Arms with Japan, South Korea

July 31, 2019

A group of military experts is proposing that the United States share its nuclear weapons with Japan and South Korea to answer the nuclear threat from North Korea.

The experts’ comments appear in Joint Forces Quarterly, a publication of the National Defense University. It notes that the opinions expressed in the article are not the official policy or position of the U.S. government.

In talks with U.S. officials, North Korea agreed not to test nuclear arms and long-range missiles. Yet the country apparently launched short-range missiles on Wednesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has met three times with U.S. President Donald Trump. Their most recent meeting took place in June in Panmunjom, along the border between North and South Korea.

But the North has been slow to get involved in talks aimed at working out details of ending its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. government has offered to lift economic restrictions on the country once the program is suspended.

Experts: US should consider sharing

The four military experts expressed their opinions in an article called “Twenty-first Century Nuclear Deterrence.” The four serve in the U.S. army, navy and air force.

They wrote that: “The United States should strongly consider…sharing of nonstrategic nuclear capabilities during times of crisis with select Asia-Pacific partners, specifically Japan and the Republic of Korea.”

The Republic of Korea is the official name for South Korea. The term nonstrategic mainly describes weapons, like bombs, that can be dropped from warplanes.

The idea of the U.S. sharing nuclear arms with Japan and South Korea would involve deploying the weapons to the countries so they could be used in a nuclear war. The idea is similar to how the U.S. shares nuclear weapons with some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The U.S. has promised to protect Japan and South Korea against nuclear attack. It also operates major military bases in both countries.

A view of North Korea’s missile launch on Thursday, in this undated picture released by North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 26, 2019. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The article on the proposal to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons in East Asia was released on July 25. That is the same day North Korea launched two short-range missiles. Early Wednesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the North launched several missiles from its eastern coast.

The military experts suggest that American nuclear sharing with Japan and South Korea could be based on the NATO model with a few differences.

Currently, the U.S. shares nuclear weapons with Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. The NATO alliance now has a total of 29 member-states.

The article suggests that a possible nuclear weapons agreement in Japan and South Korea could be based on the agreement with NATO. Both the U.S. and the host country would need to agree to any possible use of the weapons. But some details may need to be changed for the East Asian allies.

Japan and South Korea dispute trade, history

The article suggests that nuclear sharing with Japan and South Korea would improve a “military partnership through joint-regional exercises” needed to deter North Korea. It also suggests that the move would provide a strong reason for North Korea to continue with negotiations to end its nuclear program.

A notice campaigning for a boycott of Japanese-made products is displayed at a store in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 12, 2019.

However, arms control expert Gary Samore said the timing may not be right for the proposed nuclear sharing because of the current trade dispute between Japan and South Korea.

Trade tensions between the two countries increased after Japan ordered restrictions on products exported to South Korean companies. The parts affected are needed in the manufacture of smart phones and high-technology devices.

The dispute has its roots in Koreans’ anger over the Japanese occupation of their country from 1910 to 1945, and its use of Korean forced labor during World War II.

South Korea’s Supreme Court approved the seizure of Japanese-owned property to pay South Koreans who were affected. To answer the export restrictions, many South Koreans are boycotting Japanese products. Those boycotts have become widespread in Seoul.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling in Asia this week. Pompeo has said he would like to see Japan and South Korea “find a path forward” from the dispute.

Samore said, “There may come a time when the domestic politics in South Korea and Japan have changed especially when North Korea continues to maintain…nuclear weapons.”

He said, at that point, such an agreement would “make more sense.”

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Kim Dong-hyun reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.