The Growing Risk of Nuclear War

An unsettled year in nuclear weapons

By John Mecklin, December 24, 2018

In 2018, the world’s arms control architecture teetered on the brink of collapse as the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and threatened withdrawal from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Negotiations between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear program stalled. And Hawaii went through 38 dreadful minutes of believing it was under nuclear missile attack.

The Bulletin’s coverage of these events and many other aspects of the modern nuclear dilemma was truly comprehensive last year. What follows, then, is not a “best of” list, per se, but eight prime examples from the remarkably consistent and excellent offerings our expert authors provided throughout the year. I thank and applaud them all.

Facing nuclear reality, 35 years after The Day After

A special report by Dawn Stover

A comprehensive look at the meaning, in today’s world, of a landmark TV movie, including an interview with Ted Koppel, who led an expert panel discussion after the airing of a film that changed world nuclear history.

Dawn of a new Armageddon

By Cynthia Lazaroff

 The truly gripping account of 38 minutes of chaos that ensued after Hawaii received an all-too-believable warning that it was under what appeared to be a nuclear missile attack.

 

George H.W. Bush worked toward a soft nuclear landing for the dissolving Soviet Union

By Siegfried S. Hecker

How the late president aided the effort to secure the Soviet Union’s nuclear material and scientists as the USSR dissolved.

Expert comment: The INF and the future of arms control

By John Mecklin

A collection of extraordinary experts assesses the import of the Trump administration’s declared interest in leaving the landmark Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a foundation of the world’s arms control regime.

Robert Oppenheimer: The myth and the mystery

By Richard Rhodes

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb explains, in brilliant detail, the reality of J. Robert Oppenheimer, in contrast with his portrayal in the opera Dr. Atomic.

 

Under siege: Safety in the nuclear weapons complex

By Robert Alvarez

One of the premier experts on the US nuclear weapons complex explores an Energy Department attack on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which oversees and reports on safety practices in the complex.

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

A collection

Through the decades, the Bulletin has been home to distinguished analysis of the US atomic bombing of two Japanese cities at the end of World War II. This collection provides an authoritative starting point for anyone interested in understanding the lasting meaning of those attacks.

Russia Expands Her Nuclear Horn

Russia Begins Testing Nuclear Weapon That Can Travel Underwater And ‘Nothing’ Can Stop It, Report Says

By Tom O’Connor On 12/25/18 at 4:13 PM

Moscow has reportedly begun testing an underwater nuclear weapon that has been touted as invincible by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Poseidon, previously known as the Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System and dubbed Kanyon by the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance, is a state-of-the-art nuclear-capable drone being developed by the Russian armed forces. Citing a defense industry source, the state-run Tass Russian News Agency reported Tuesday that the Russian navy had begun trails for the weapon at sea.

“In the sea area protected from a potential enemy’s reconnaissance means, the underwater trials of the nuclear propulsion unit of the Poseidon drone are underway,” the source said, according to the official outlet.

Russia’s nuclear-capable “doomsday” drone, named Poseidon by Russia and Kanyon by the U.S., is seen in this simulation played by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his state of the nation address, on March 1. RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

The Poseidon’s true power has never been revealed, but rumors of its existence have swirled among defense circles for years. In September 2015, The Washington Free Beacon cited Pentagon sources as saying Russia was developing submarines armed with “Kanyon” nuclear-capable drones dubbed “city busters,” with “tens” of megaton explosive power and capable of traveling long distances at high speeds. Two months later, Russian state media outlet NTV showed blueprints of a nuclear-capable underwater drone, titled “Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System,” while covering a meeting of officials.

Putin revealed the drone’s existence during his State of the Nation address in March, along with an arsenal of other advanced weapons said capable of thwarting even the most modern defense systems—and many of which were capable of being fitted with nuclear warheads. At the time, he said that Russia had completed its development of “an innovative nuclear power unit” 100 times smaller than existing submarine reactors, but still more powerful and capable of hitting its maximum capacity 200 times faster, while carrying “massive nuclear ordnance.”

“We have developed unmanned submersible vehicles that can move at great depths (I would say extreme depths) intercontinentally, at a speed multiple times higher than the speed of submarines, cutting-edge torpedoes and all kinds of surface vessels, including some of the fastest,” Putin told his federal assembly in March. “It is really fantastic. They are quiet, highly maneuverable and have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit. There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them.”

The Poseidon received its name later that month after the Russian Defense Ministry held a poll in which users also dubbed the Peresvet laser weapon system and 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.

A number of reports have claimed that the weapon may be capable of producing massive, radioactive tsunamis that would pose a threat to major cities. Some experts have corroborated this theory, although they have questioned the tactical effectiveness of this strategy.

Russia has set out to modernize its strategic and conventional arsenal in response to a perceived threat posed by the U.S. military dominance and development of a global missile shield made possible by Washington’s withdrawal of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2001. President Donald Trump has since threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty banning land-based missile systems ranging from 310 to 3,400 miles, while Moscow has claimed that the Trump administration has not responded to offers to start talks regarding the renewal of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Washington has accused the Kremlin of attempting to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor, something Putin and his officials have denied. Though the Republican leader set out to rebuild deteriorating ties between Washington and Moscow upon coming to office, the U.S. has since expanded sanctions against Russia and relations have only worsened between the two leading powers.

Trump and His Supervisors are ALL Clueless

Neither Mattis nor Trump Recognizes the Scope of This Fight

By Michael Ledeen December 24, 2018

Like all presidents beginning with Jimmy Carter, President Trump isn’t promoting the downfall of the Iranian regime. He loves sanctions, somehow believes that economic misery will eventually provoke the Iranian people to rise against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his henchmen, and periodically sends our troops to kill proxies and members of the Revolutionary Guards.

General Mattis did not, so far as I can tell, challenge this policy. He was an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic when he led Centcom, but he was opposed to Trump’s rejection of the nuclear deal, and never, so far as I can tell, called for American support of the ongoing uprising of the Iranian people against the regime.

I am a Marine dad, and I am full of admiration for General/Secretary Mattis’ many fine words warning of the Iranian threat to us, as well as his outstanding leadership on the Iraqi battlefield. But I have been disappointed by his lack of action against the mullahs.

It should be obvious that an effective Syria policy must include defeating Iran — Syria, and also Lebanon, are run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — and I was dismayed and surprised that Mattis’ resignation letter did not deal with Iran. I am afraid this means that Mattis agrees with Trump that we should not challenge Tehran. Like the president, Mattis seems to favor some sort of deal. So while I am impressed by the dignity and coherence of his resignation, I am not impressed with his policy views, any more than I was when he called John Kerry “valiant” in a public conversation with a CNN talking head at the Aspen Institute.

Nor do I admire Mattis’ — and Trump’s, and Pompeo’s, and most of the pundits’ and journalists’ — failure to see the world for what it is. How often have you heard warnings that the withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan will make war more likely? They don’t seem to realize that the war is on, right here and now. Nor do they see that it’s a global war, and that we face a coalition of radical Islamist and radical Leftist regimes, from China and North Korea and Cuba to Russia, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. Our enemies, who fear and despise freedom, are well aware that this is a big war. Listen to the Taliban, as quoted by my fine colleagues Bill Roggio and Tom Joscelyn:

For years, the Taliban and al Qaeda have told their followers that victory is on the horizon. “Verily, Allah has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat, so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled,” Mullah Omar has been quoted as saying.

More recently, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri claimed that the Taliban’s resurrected Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be the “nucleus” of a new caliphate.

Such is the importance that Osama bin Laden’s successor has placed on the Afghan jihad. Similarly, the leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Asim Umar, predicted in 2017 that Trump’s “America First” policy meant that America would retreat from Afghanistan, thereby signaling the loss of its global leadership position.

Today, their predictions look prophetic.

More Rioting Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11:2)

Arab rioters on the Gaza-Israel border in Rafah, Gaza on Oct. 12. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Gazans Riot on Land and at Sea

By Dov Benovadiaי”ז טבת תשע”ט

YERUSHALAYIM

Thousands of Gaza Arabs rioted Monday night at several points along the border fence, as dozens of boats attempted to breach the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. Riots occurred near Zikim, adjacent to the eastern border of Gaza just a few kilometers from Ashkelon, and at the Erez crossing.

Israeli forces responded to rock throwing and numerous attacks using firebombs with anti-riot measures. Gaza sources said that 14 rioters were injured.

Israel was redoubling its forces in the south, after Hamas and Islamic Jihad said that this coming Friday would be “a day of great testing for the enemy.” On the weekend, the terror groups threatened to increase attacks against Israel, after four rioters died Friday after attacking Israeli soldiers. The IDF is concerned that Hamas could stage riots even before Friday, hence the buildup of forces in the south.

Israeli sources told Channel 20 that if the terror groups once again began shooting missiles at Israel, the IDF’s response would be “harsh and powerful. We will not allow a repeat of the recent events” in which Gaza terrorists shot nearly 500 missiles at Israel withing several days. “The response will not be ‘measured’ this time, but will be a harsh strike at Hamas.”

On Tuesday, security officials arrested seven Arab residents of Yerushalayim for throwing firebombs at civilians and security personnel. The seven were all youths between 15 and 20 years of age. Besides firebombs, the gang threw firecrackers and other dangerous explosives at Israeli vehicles and at the light rail. Police plan to ask for an extension of their remand.

Overnight Monday, security officials said they arrested 5 wanted security suspects in other areas in Yehudah and Shomron. The suspects were wanted for participating in rioting and throwing stones and firebombs that endangered Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers. Several of the suspects were also charged with belonging to Hamas. All were being questioned on their activities by security forces.

Israel Struggles to Control Syria (Revelation 11:2)

FILE PHOTO: Surface-to-air missile fire lights up the sky over Damascus as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, April 14, 2018. Hassan Ammar,AP

Israel Says Missile Fired From Syria Intercepted; Reports of IDF Strikes Near Damascus

Sound of loud explosions reported in Damascus ■ Iranian and Hezbollah arms depots reportedly targeted ■ Incident comes days after Netanyahu said may expand military action after U.S. pullout from Syria

Jack Khoury

Yaniv Kubovich

Noa Shpigel

Israel struck an arms depot west Syria’s capital city of Damascus from Lebanese airspace, Syrian state media reported late Tuesday night. According to reports three soldiers were wounded in the attack which aimed at Hezbollah depots.

“The aggression originated from above the Lebanese territories and a number of hostile targets were downed,” Syrian TV added. SANA state media reported that missiles were indeed intercepted.

The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the targets were arms depots that belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their allies, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah.

The Israeli military spokesman said shortly after that an anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria was intercepted by Israeli air defense systems.

Residents in the area of northern city of Hadera, south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, reported seeing a trail in the sky, and residents of Hefer Valley Regional Council, between Netanya and Hadera, reported hearing a loud explosion.

The sound of loud explosions also echoed through Syrian capital city of Damascus, a witness told DPA.

Syrian air defense activity near Damascus, December 25, 2018. SANA

Residents in the area also said that explosions took place around the Al Mezzeh Military Airport west of the capital, reportedly targeted by Israel before, and in the areas of Kesawa and Jimraya, which are located north-west of Damascus.

The residents added that there were at least two rounds of strikes in Kesawa and Jimraya.

Lebanese residents near the border with neighbouring Syria said the sound of planes could be heard in the sky, hinting that Israeli planes were using Lebanese airspace to hit targets inside Syria.

Lebanese state-run National News Agency said Israeli war planes performed mock raids above southern Lebanon, and other media outlets reported that residents near the border with neighboring Syria said the sound of planes could be heard in the sky.

The incident comes two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the American military withdrawal from Syria will not affect Israel’s policy toward the war-torn country.

“The decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy: We will continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Also on Sunday, the Israeli army said soldiers fired toward several gunmen approaching Israel’s border with Syria in the Golan Heights. No Israeli forces were wounded and it is unclear whether the gunmen were hit.

In an abrupt policy shift, U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week that Washington would withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, upending a pillar of American policy in the Middle East and alarming U.S. allies.

The decision was followed on Thursday by the surprise departure of U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who in a resignation letter to Trump laid bare the growing divide between the two over foreign policy.

“I would like to reassure those who are concerned. Our cooperation with the U.S. will continue in full and finds expression in many areas: Operations, intelligence and many other security spheres,” Netanyahu said.

Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot also commented on Trump’s decision Sunday, saying it is “significant,” but should not be overblown.

“The Russian presence in Syria since the end of 2015 created a new situation,” Eisenkot told a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

“It required us to enter a dialogue to create a system to prevent friction, and it has been a factor affecting how we have used force. Through the entire period, I as chief of staff have felt that there has been an understanding regarding Israel’s security needs.”

Although Russia and Israel established a system to avoid friction between Israeli aircraft operating in Syria and Russian military planes in the area,  a Russian aircraft was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles during an Israeli airstrike in September. The Russians blamed Israel for the mishaps, a claim that Israel vigorously denied.

A former head of military intelligence said in November that Israeli strikes on Syria “have been cut almost to zero” since the Russian plane was shot down. Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, interviewed on Radio 103, said Iran was “changing tactics” and has been reducing its presence in Syria in favor of Iraq and Lebanon.

“Apart from the Russians’ anger with us, I assume they also passed stern messages to the Iranians,” he said. “Russia’s strategy is to stabilize Syria, and Iran was disrupting that by developing its precision missile facilities.”

Russia announced it had delivered the S-300 air defense system to Syria in October. That came after the September 17 downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli airstrike, a friendly fire incident that stoked regional tensions.

AP, DPA and Reuters contributed to this report.

Protests to Continue Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11:2)

Great March of Return protests to continue until end of Gaza siege: Hamas

Sun Dec 23, 2018 10:19PM [Updated: Mon Dec 24, 2018 02:34AM ]

Palestinian protesters use slingshots in a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with occupied territories, in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 8, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

A senior official of the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, says Palestinians will continue the Great March of Return rallies until the end of the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas and a member of its leadership in the Gaza Strip, made the remarks in a Sunday interview with Iran’s Al-Alam News Network in Tehran.

He said the anti-occupation rallies, known as the “Great March of Return,” have produced important results, and will not be stopped before the Israeli regime’s siege on the enclave is lifted.

Tensions have been running high near the fence separating Gaza from the occupied territories since March 30, which marked the start of the protests.

Palestinian protesters demand the right to return for those driven out of their homeland.

The clashes in Gaza reached their peak on May 14, the eve of the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day, or the Day of Catastrophe, which coincided this year with Washington’s relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem al-Quds.

More than 220 Palestinians have so far been killed and over 20,000 others wounded in the renewed Gaza clashes, according to the latest figures released by the Gaza Health Ministry.

Gaza has been under Israeli siege since June 2007, causing a decline in living standards as well as unprecedented unemployment and poverty.

PressTV-‘54 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces since Jan.’

A report shows the Israeli regime’s forces have killed 54 Palestinian children and arrested over 900 during this year.

Friday to be decisive day for Israel

The military wings of Hamas warned in a joint statement on Sunday that the coming Friday will be “decisive” in determining their response to the killing of four people during recent border protests.

The groups declared they had prepared retaliation steps, and that their use will be dependent upon Israel’s policy.

It will be “a decisive day in examining the Zionist enemy’s behavior and intentions toward our people in the March of Return,” the Sunday statement said.

The deaths were “a total crime and clear recklessness by the Zionist enemy,” which has “crossed red lines,” they continued, as reported by Israeli media.

“Regarding these crimes, the resistance will not act lightly with the enemy and stand by idly,” the statement warned.

The statement came after several Palestinians, including a teenage, were shot dead by Israeli fire and nearly fifty others sustained injuries during the latest Great March of Return protests in Gaza.

PressTV-Israeli forces shoot dead three, wound dozens in Gaza

Over 220 Palestinians have been killed since they began weekly border protests on March 30.

Iran main backer of Palestinians

In his interview with Al-Alam, al-Zahar further described Iran as the main supporter of Palestinians, and said Hamas does not do anything without consulting with Iran over the issue.

Al-Zahar made the remarks during his visit to Tehran at the head of a delegation of the Hamas faction in the Palestinian Parliament.

He earlier held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani as well as Ali Akbar Velayati a senior advisor to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

In the meeting with al-Zahar, Zarif once again reiterated the Islamic Republic’s principled policy to support Palestine, urging all countries in the Muslim world to boost their unity to defend the Palestinian cause.

“We hope that some Muslim countries that have pinned their hopes on the support of the Zionists and the US will return to the Muslim world and realize that Zionists are not a trustworthy friend or partner for anybody,” Zarif said.

The Iranian foreign minister added that efforts to counter the Palestinian resistance are unfortunately being made from inside the Muslim world, saying that all countries and Islamic movements are also under such pressure.

PressTV-Support for Palestine, Iran’s principled policy: Zarif

Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif says support for Palestine is among the Islamic Republic’s principled policies.

For his part, Zahar hailed Iran’s real support for Palestine and expressed hope that the Palestinian people’s resistance and the Muslim world’s support would put an end to the Zionist project as soon as possible.

Back in May, Ayatollah Khamenei said resistance is the sole way to save the oppressed Palestinian nation.

Ayatollah Khamenei reaffirmed Iran’s unwavering support for Palestine and Palestinian fighters, noting that strengthening the resistance front in the Muslim world and intensifying the fight against the occupying regime of Israel and its supporters were the solution to the Palestinian issue.

Trump’s Legitimate Nuclear Option

Trump can launch nuclear weapons whenever he wants, with or without Mattis

Dec. 23, 2018

Bruce Blair and Jon Wolfsthal, The Washington Post

The abrupt and pointed resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Thursday alarmed official Washington. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., called him an “an island of stability amid the chaos of the Trump administration.” Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told The Washington Post that “having Mattis there gave all of us a great deal more comfort than we have now.”

Mattis’ departure seems to be provoking unease, especially considering how dangerous our nuclear-command arrangements are. The notion that Mattis, a former four-star Marine Corps general, could have blocked or defied a move by Trump to impulsively launch nuclear weapons may have seemed comforting, but it shouldn’t have been. The secretary of defense has no legal position in the nuclear chain of command, and any attempts by a secretary of defense to prevent the president from exercising the authority to use nuclear weapons would be undemocratic and illegal. With or without Mattis, the president has unchecked and complete authority to launch nuclear weapons based on his sole discretion.

The reaction to Mattis’ resignation, however, could open the door for the new Congress to create long-overdue legal barriers preventing the president from initiating a nuclear strike. Such a step could be implemented without any negative impact on U.S. security or that of our allies.

Every day, the U.S. nuclear early warning system is triggered by some event or another, mostly civilian and military rocket launches by one or more of a dozen countries with ballistic missiles. When such launches appear to threaten North America, the head of U.S. Strategic Command is alerted, and sometimes these alerts warrant the urgent notification of the president. That alert comes by way of a direct call from the Strategic Command or via the White House Situation Room, the emergency-operations bunker beneath the East Wing, or the national security adviser. Partly a remnant of the Cold War, this system remains in place today to ensure the president can be notified quickly of any direct threat to the United States’ nuclear arsenal and the facilities that control it. That way, he can launch nuclear missiles before they are destroyed or the U.S. government is incapacitated by incoming weapons.

In normal times, this system is precarious, and it can pressure even experienced leaders to consider nuclear weapons in a crisis sooner than warranted. Alerts stemming from ambiguous ballistic nuclear missile threats occurred multiple times during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and some alerts went directly to those presidents.

Yet, this system seems especially ill-suited to a president who has demonstrated time and again that he can be provoked into taking rash action, and who, as a candidate, openly questioned why the United States could not use the nuclear weapons it possesses. This is a dangerous set of instincts for a commander in chief with sole and unchecked authority over almost 4,000 nuclear weapons, nearly 1,000 of which could be fired within a few minutes.

For over a year, Mattis has been trying to reassure congressional leaders that he could help check some of Trump’s impulses, in part by intervening in the nuclear chain of command. In a break with normal procedures, Mattis reportedly told the commander of the Strategic Command to keep him directly informed of any event that might lead to a nuclear alert being sent to the president. He even told the Strategic Command “not to put on a pot of coffee without letting him know.”

Congressional leaders interpreted this to mean that Mattis would either deal with a possible threat before it reached Trump or ensure he was present to advise Trump when such an alert arrived.

This assurance may have helped ease concerns about our nuclear weapons for some members of Congress, but only if they were unfamiliar with how the command and control structure truly works. Personal relationships and back channels are no way to manage a nuclear arsenal.

Even informed observers are surprised to learn the president can order the use of nuclear weapons without the input – or consent – of the secretaries of Defense or State, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the vice president. They only have a role in the presidential launch protocol if the president has given prior approval for them to be notified and solicits their advice. Otherwise, none of these people would need to be involved or informed that the president has decided to use a nuclear weapon.

Under standard procedure, an attempt would be made to contact key national security officials, but in some real-world and exercise scenarios, it has proven impossible to tie them into a quickly convened emergency teleconference. Should he wish, the president could exclude all of them, and even bypass the primary designated adviser – the four-star general in charge of U.S. strategic forces – by ordering a low-ranking on-duty emergency operations officer at the Pentagon or elsewhere to transmit a launch order directly to the executing commanders of strategic U.S. submarines, silo-based missiles and bombers.

Trump could have learned all this in a briefing about nuclear weapons shortly after he took office, and his military aide, ever at his side, could explain and assist in issuing a direct order to a lower-level officer at any time.

Even if Mattis had been with Trump at a time of nuclear crisis, his resignation letter drives home the fact that Trump might very well have simply ignored his counsel. Trump, as he is proving in stark terms, listens only to himself. And any attempt by another person to physically block the president from issuing a launch order would probably result in his or her removal by the Secret Service. It is delusional and fundamentally undemocratic to think that our strongest check on a president bent on initiating nuclear war without justifiable cause might be a defense secretary trying to keep the president from communicating his launch authority using the so-called Gold Codes.

When the United States faced the prospect of sudden nuclear attack from the Soviet Union, this system helped reinforce deterrence based on a balance of nuclear terror. But since the demise of the U.S.S.R., and even with a more aggressive Russia, the whole arrangement raises questions about its necessity, risks and consistency with democratic values. It is well past time for the system to be reformed to ensure that it hews to our Constitution and mitigates as much as possible the very real risks associated with a renewed arms competition with Russia.

One key issue is whether Trump – or any president – should have the legal ability to independently initiate the use of nuclear weapons. It seems reasonable that the president needs to be able to quickly order a nuclear response if an adversary employs nuclear weapons first against us, and that he would not have time to consult with Congress or the Cabinet if nuclear missiles were headed here. (The flight time of ballistic missiles over intercontinental distances is 30 minutes or less, and the president would have only about five to seven minutes to decide whether and how to respond.)

However, our chain of command is not just a presidential preference – it can be determined by legislative action. Congress can and should prohibit any president from using nuclear weapons first. The incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., proposed such legislation last year. It states that it is the policy of the United States not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. Congress could make any first-use illegal, constraining the president from issuing such an order and obligating any member of the military to disobey a command to do so. A no-first-use policy would also ratchet down tensions with Russia and facilitate reductions in the number and types of nuclear weapons in both U.S. and Russian arsenals. The logic and political salience of this position is growing, with some 20 members of the incoming Congress – including House Speaker-to-be Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. – now on record supporting no first use.

Legislation to bar first use probably wouldn’t get through the Republican Senate or be signed into law by Trump. But recognition that the system puts too much power in the hands of one person increases the likelihood that the next president will either adopt such a posture or accept legislative controls. Maintaining an outdated and unstable system is clearly too dangerous.

Bending norms and the military chain of command to prevent a disastrous presidential decision is not a reliable safeguard, and extralegal measures should not be how the United States prevents a nuclear war. Neither Mattis nor anyone else can reassure the American people that a president will not, on a whim, use the most fearsome weapons humans have ever invented. Only laws can constrain such a dangerous prospect. It is well past time for our country to take control of the nuclear chain of command.

Blair is a research scholar in Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and a founder of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Wolfsthal is a former senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation. He is now a senior adviser to Global Zero in Washington.

Trump Delivers Syria to Iran

Trump Delivers a Victory to Iran

The president’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria has ruined the administration’s efforts to contain the Islamic republic.

Reuel Marc Gerecht Senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Mark Dubowitz Chief executive officer for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

During the presidential campaign, the outlier in Donald Trump’s foreign-policy orations was his treatment of Iran. On Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia (remember President Barack Obama’s “off-mic” tête-à-tête with President Dmitry Medvedev?), and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Trump largely followed his predecessor. Differences existed, certainly in style and manner, but the overlap between the two men on most of the big foreign-policy questions was profound.

When it came to the clerical regime in Iran, however, the two men were polar opposites. Trump thought the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was “the worst deal ever.” He also let loose against Tehran’s Islamic radicalism, terrorism, quest for regional hegemony, and fondness for sowing mayhem in the Middle East. Trump’s serrated rhetoric stood in contrast to the comments of Obama, his secretary of state, and other senior officials, who had muted their criticisms of Tehran in their pursuit of the atomic accord and, as important, a new strategic realignment, wherein a less interventionist America might, so the theory went, find a modus vivendi with a richer, commercially engaged, and moderating Islamic Republic.

As president, Trump followed through. The nuclear deal went down, the sanctions came back, and despite moments of wobbliness concerning troop deployments in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Trump administration held fast in the Middle East. National-Security Advisers H. R. McMaster and John Bolton, United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, and, perhaps most of all, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a new approach to the Islamic Republic. The Trump administration wasn’t inclined to roll back the clerical regime, but it did seem ready to contest and contain Iran’s Shiite imperialism in Syria, Yemen, and even in Iraq, in which the president had never evinced much interest.

Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, concurrently with his intention to drastically reduce the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the likely soon-to-be-announced further drawdown of U.S. personnel in Iraq, has made mincemeat of the administration’s efforts to contain Iran. If you add up who wins locally by this decision (the clerical regime in Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,  Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite radicals, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) and who loses (Jordan, Israel, the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arabs, everyone in Lebanon resisting Hezbollah, the vast majority of the Iraqi Shia, the Gulf States), it becomes clear that the interests of the United States have been routed.

Before Trump pulled the plug in Syria, the rhetorical center of the president’s Iran policy was the “New Iran Strategy” speech by Pompeo at the Heritage Foundation on May 21, 2018. The 12 demands that Pompeo issued to Tehran are not historically provocative—they were, until the coming of Obama, essentially what the United States had always sought: to deny the mullahs nuclear weapons and stop them from spreading their version of Islamic militancy. Washington hadn’t been brilliantly successful in countering Tehran and only occasionally efficient in bringing real pain to the mullahs and their praetorians, the Revolutionary Guards, who are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers since they first drew blood in Lebanon in 1983. But Pompeo, by redrawing the lines, clearly signaled that the United States wasn’t giving up, that a campaign of “maximum pressure” was still coming. It is clear now, however, that the secretary’s speech was a bridge too far for Trump, who may never have read it.

To be fair to the president: The administration’s developing approach was probably never his. A close read of Pompeo’s Heritage speech reveals the tactical quandary that has always been at the core of the Trump presidency’s approach. The secretary put forth a lot of “don’ts” for the regime: “Iran must end support to Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad … respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government … end its military support for the Houthi militia [in Yemen] … must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria … end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan … cease harboring senior al-Qaeda leaders … and end its threatening behavior against its neighbors.” But he did not clearly indicate that the United States would do anything to punish the Islamic Republic for its malign actions other than use sanctions.

It is an excellent guess that Pompeo, Bolton, McMaster, and Haley were willing to apply more pressure than just sanctions, and would have given speeches to that effect if they’d been allowed to do so. Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was more reticent about committing U.S. troops to an anti-Iran mission, would have likely been more forward-leaning if he had trusted Trump to stay the course in Syria and Iraq. All these officials certainly agreed that U.S. forces in Syria, which don’t cost much and have incurred few casualties, should stay. Those troops and civilians were the hinge of long-term Iranian containment—a low-cost use of American soldiers, backed up by allied European special-operations units, that had checked the advance of much larger and more costly Iranian, Russian, and Syrian-regime forces.

To their credit, Pompeo, Bolton, McMaster, Haley, and Mattis removed the rhetorical legerdemain surrounding the reasons for American troops being in Syria: They were there to squash the Islamic State and prevent its rebirth, and they were there to check Russia and Iran, which controls Syrian-regime ground forces as well as the indispensable foreign Shiite militias. This American engagement was easily the best bang for the buck that Washington had gotten in the region since 2001.

Nor were Bolton, McMaster, Pompeo, Haley, and Mattis operating outside congressional authorization: At any time, Congress could have cut off funding for U.S. forces if it thought they were straying too far from their original mandate. Congress didn’t do so. Syria may be the one locale where congressional Democrats and Republicans largely agreed about the use of American military power. And if the president were ever serious about rebuilding a transatlantic alliance against the Islamic Republic, Syria was the place to do it.

But Trump just couldn’t buy in. It’s ironic that the president snapped when discussing Syria with Turkey’s President Erdoğan, who is modern Turkey’s first real Islamist ruler and certainly not a friend of the United States. The president’s tweets are a muddle: At one moment, he thinks the Islamic State is destroyed, and therefore our soldiers can come home; at another, he suggests that ending the Islamic State isn’t even America’s business because the group is aligned against the Syrian regime, Iran, and Russia. (“Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals?”) All one can conclude is that the president just wants out of Syria, regardless of the consequences. Even more than Obama, Trump is post-post-9/11.

Which leaves the administration’s Iran policy centered on sanctions. Sanctions have many things going for them as a foreign-policy tool. Against Iran, they eliminated the surreality under Obama of the United States returning money that could be used to support the clerics’ imperialism for, at best, a short-term surcease to our nuclear anxieties. Tehran now has tens of billions less in hard currency to further its ambitions than it did when Trump took office. And Trump was right: Iranian aggression abroad got much worse after the nuclear deal was concluded.

But sanctions aren’t strategy. If they encourage Americans to stop thinking about the other factors required to counter the Islamic Republic, they become a delusion, an appealing, inexpensive choice for those not quite ready to admit they no longer have the intestinal fortitude to play hardball in the Middle East. Without the complementary use of other instruments of national power, they serve the same purpose that nuclear diplomacy and the JCPOA did for Obama: They are cover for our continuing retreat.

When Trump won the presidential election, Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, speculated on the potential upside of his victory: Trump might actually follow through on what he’d preached—an American withdrawal from the Middle East. Surrounded by Bolton, Pompeo, and Mattis, Trump’s promise seemed to dim. But Khamenei, who is the most accomplished dictator in modern Middle Eastern history, in part because he can see and exploit the weaknesses and strengths in both his enemies and friends, appears again to have seen his adversary correctly: Trump’s desire to be done with the Muslim Middle East (and so much else) is deep.

And unlike the Iranian cleric, who imbibed radical European literature and melded it to the revolutionary Islamist ethos of his heroes, Sayyid Qutb and Ruhollah Khomeini, Trump has no grand vision. He has the sense of a populist politician who knows America will, without leaders arguing otherwise, always go with less, not more, in foreign affairs. Trump has gutted and left powerless his senior officials, who have tried hard to give some coherence and mundane effect to his waves of emotion and disconnected data points. It’s hard to think of a time when an American president has so publicly stripped his most senior advisers of their credibility.

Although Khamenei didn’t say so, it’s a good guess that if given the choice between dealing with American sanctions or America staying in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, he’d take the former. Trump’s withdrawal has severely weakened his own Iran policy, signaling boredom, fickleness, fatigue, and fear. He’s weakened American allies in the region and probably obliged the Kurds who fought with us in Syria to seek protection from Iran and Russia. The great Iranian-American tug-of-war, which has defined so much of Khamenei’s life, may well be over. It is odd and wry that many Americans, on the right and left, may believe that what is good for Khamenei could possibly be good for the United States, too.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He has served as a Iranian-targets officer in the CIA, and is the author of Know Thine Enemy: A Spy’s Journey into Revolutionary Iran.

Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive officer for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he heads its Center for Sanctions and Illicit Finance.

Iran and Korean Nuclear Collusion

Iran’s NUCLEAR cooperation with North Korea EXPOSED – ‘Exact’ names and locations REVEALED

Iran and North Korea are cooperating on nuclear weapons, an NCRI document has claimed (Image: GETTY)

IRAN is cooperating with North Korea on nuclear weapons by conducting clandestine deals with the dictatorship to further its global military ambitions, an Iranian Resistance document has claimed.

By SAM STEVENSON

PUBLISHED: 06:04, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

UPDATED: 13:43, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

Iran missile tests breach no UNSC resolution says expert

Iran missile tests breach no UNSC resolution says a Press TV expert as it announces plan to increase its military range. The announcement is being considered as a show of defiance against the US which has branded the country as a security threat.

The extraordinary claims were made in a paper composed by the official Iranian Resistance movement. The document asserts numerous Iranian officials have travelled to North Korea to discuss nuclear weapons. It comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked Iran for violation of United Nations (UN) resolutions this week.

According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) document, many Iranian officials have been in clandestine talks with Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship over nuclear weapons policy.

In exchange for obtaining military, nuclear and missile equipment, the Iranian regime sends oil to North Korea, the explosive paper claims.

According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) document, many Iranian officials have been in clandestine talks with Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship over nuclear weapons policy.

Missile and nuclear experts from North Korea have had a consistent presence in Iran since the Iran-Iraq war, the NCRI paper states.

The document, entitled ‘Iran’s Ballistic Buildup: The march towards nuclear-capable missiles’, purports to know the “exact location of the place where North Koreans stay”, contending it is: “End of Babaie Highway heading to the east, past Morvarid Hall, at Khomeini complex.”

It also mentions specific individuals whom it claims are involved.

According to compiled reports, IRGC delegates and commanders regularly visit North Korea, with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh allegedly present during the third nuclear test conducted by North Korea on February 12, 2013.

Russia Warns of Nuclear War

Russian President Vladimir speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Russia Warns of Global Conflict Following Nuclear Pact Collapse

UN rejects Russian resolution in support of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Reuters

23.12.2018 |

Russia said on Saturday that the scrapping of a Cold War era nuclear pact may lead to an arms race and direct confrontation between several global regions, after a proposal by Moscow was rejected in a United Nations vote.

Moscow had put forward a resolution in support of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty which bans Moscow and Washington from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the UN had failed to vote in favor of the proposal.

“A new blow has been dealt on the global architecture of security and stability. Now, with the collapse of the INF treaty, several global regions could be plunged into the arms race or even into a direct confrontation,” it said.

Washington has threatened to pull out of the accord, saying Moscow failed to comply with it.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of raising the risk of nuclear war by threatening to spurn the key arms control treaty and refusing to hold talks about another pact that expires soon.