Babylon the Great Shows NO Mercy on Iran

Damaged vehicles are seen after a flash flooding in Shiraz, Iran Image Credit: AFP

Iran floods force evacuations as U.S. denies sanctions harming aid efforts

Agencies Published:  April 03, 2019 09:51

US blames disaster on the Iranian government’s own ‚mismanagement‘

Highlights

Sanctions have prevented Iran from acquiring badly needed equipment, including relief helicopters

Tehran – Iranian authorities ordered the evacuation of scores of villages on Tuesday as the impact of severe flooding spread further across the country, while Washington denied Tehran’s claim that U.S. sanctions were slowing aid efforts.

The spokesman for the emergency department said 57 people have died in the flooding since mid-March. Mojtaba Khaledi was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency on Tuesday as saying another 478 have been injured, with 19 still hospitalized.

State television said armed forces had stepped up relief efforts, airing footage of military and Red Crescent helicopters taking part in rescue operations.

Flood risks forced authorities to order the evacuation of more than 70 villages in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, state news agency IRNA said.

Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised rescue efforts but said officials should have anticipated the disaster better, state TV reported, as a war of words broke out between Tehran and Washington over relief responses.

Iran’s foreign minister says sanctions imposed by the Trump administration last year have hampered rescue efforts in flood-stricken areas of the country, where nearly 60 people have died since mid-March, while the U.S. blamed the disaster on the Iranian government’s own „mismanagement.“

Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted late Monday that America’s „maximum pressure“ policy on Iran „is impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedCrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods.“

He said the sanctions have prevented Iran from acquiring badly needed equipment, including relief helicopters. „This isn’t just economic warfare“ it’s economic TERRORISM,“ he tweeted.

Flooded streets in the northern Iranian village of Agh Ghaleh. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on April 2, 2019 blamed Iran for the level of devastation from major floods, and said Washington was ready to help. Image Credit: AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump restored crippling sanctions on Iran last year after withdrawing from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The sanctions have worsened an economic crisis that has ignited sporadic anti-government protests over the past year.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday the floods show the „level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness.“

„The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster,“ he said. „The United States stands ready to assist and contribute to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which would then direct the money through the Iranian Red Crescent for relief.“

In a tweet late Tuesday, Zarif called Pompeo’s remarks „fake news“ and urged the U.S. to accept responsibility for economic pressures on Iranians.

The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster. The United States stands ready to assist and contribute to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which would then direct the money through the Iranian Red Crescent for relief.

– U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Iran has seen major flooding for the past two weeks in hundreds of villages, towns and cities in the western half of the country, where in some places an emergency situation has been declared.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told IRNA that because of the U.S. sanctions, all foreign bank accounts of the Iranian Red Crescent are closed and no foreign-based entity is able to transfer funds for those suffering from the floods.

A man crosses a flooded street in the city of Khorramabad in western province of Lorestan, Iran. Image Credit: AP

Local authorities in the stricken areas have repeatedly asked for more helicopters to reach remote locations. Iranian state media said Tuesday that dozens of military and Iranian Red Crescent helicopters are taking part in the relief operation.

Britain and Germany have offered to send help, including boats and safety equipment.

Iranian media say the floods have cut off some 80 intercity roads, as well as roads to nearly 2,200 villages, and that electricity and communications with many places have been cut.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held an emergency meeting Tuesday on the flood response with top officials and army commanders, state TV reported. Authorities have already issued evacuation warnings and ordered emergency discharges from reservoirs.

Iranian authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of flood-stricken cities in a western province as rivers burst their banks, dams overflowed and vast areas were cut off from communication Image Credit: AFP

Emergency services are advising people to postpone travel to western and southern Iran, including the oil-rich Khuzestan province, which is expecting heavy flooding in the coming days from overflowing rivers that flow down to the province.

Provincial Gov. Gholamreza Shariati told the semi-official Tasnim news agency that at least three towns with nearly 140,000 residents are on evacuation alert.

Last year, at least 30 people were killed by flash floods in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

The Coming War Against Iran

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

An explosion rocks Baghdad during air strikes March 21, 2003.

We had one disastrous war in the Middle East. Don’t start a new war with Iran.

By Jacob Thomas

March 20 marked the 16th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. It’s an appropriate time to remember the value of diplomacy in advancing America’s national security interests. And there is no better example of smart diplomacy than the Iran nuclear agreement, which blocked Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb without putting a single American life in harm’s way.

As a former technical sergeant with the United States Air Force and recipient of the Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal, I fully appreciate the gravity of what a nuclear Iran could mean. I also have no desire to see American service members needlessly put in danger. The Iran deal exemplified the critical role and brilliance of our nation’s diplomatic arm.

President Donald Trump intentionally violated the Iran deal by reimposing unilateral sanctions, even though Iran is complying. Trump’s careless violation of our obligations risks unraveling the very deal so many fought to create. The next president should reverse this reckless decision and re-enter the Iran agreement, for American security and the security of our allies.

12 years to negotiate

The nuclear deal was a triumph of international diplomacy. It took the U.S., Great Britain, France and Germany 12 years to negotiate. The sobering reality is that before the deal was signed in 2015, Iran was on the brink of a nuclear bomb. The U.S. and allies imposed severe economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table and convinced Iran to end its dangerous nuclear activities. In exchange for sanctions relief, Iran submitted to the most intensive monitoring regime ever negotiated, ensuring that its nuclear activities remain peaceful. The relief of sanctions was our international promise that Trump is intent on breaking.

Trump, claiming Iran was not complying, reimposed nuclear sanctions, violating our commitment under the agreement. However, the president’s claims have no basis in reality. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel recently testified to Congress that Iran is not conducting nuclear weapons work. This assessment is shared by the Israeli intelligence community and by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has inspectors on the ground in Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The only person who shares the president’s conviction is his national security adviser, John Bolton. Yet Bolton is hardly a credible source. As the top arms control analyst for President George W. Bush, Bolton advocated for the Iraq war, claiming Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and ignoring evidence to the contrary. Bolton supported the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran agreement and now claims that Iran “continues to seek nuclear weapons,” despite clear evidence that Iran is complying. Bolton’s claims about Iran do not reflect the facts, but they do reflect his role in the Iraq war and his advice, laid out in a New York Times op-ed, “to stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.” We should not let a warmonger lie to us (again) and undermine 12 years of courageous work.

A reckless and dangerous decision

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal was reckless and dangerous. It has severely damaged our relationship with our European allies who helped broker this deal. The U.S. role as a global leader is not based solely in our military might but in our economic influence and in our ability to conduct diplomacy with democratic allies in Western Europe. By withdrawing from the Iran deal and threatening to sanction our allies if they do not do the same, the Trump administration has undercut both our economic and our diplomatic relationships.

Trump once sent a bizarre, all caps tweet threatening Iran with “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.” As Sen. Amy Klobuchar says, “our front line troops, diplomats and intelligence officers … who are out there every day risking their lives for us … deserve better than foreign policy by Tweet.” She is absolutely right.

The Trump administration’s disdain for diplomacy and over-reliance on crude military force has damaged America’s standing on the global state. We cannot and we must not bludgeon our way through foreign policy. We need the next president to restore our role as a world leader, trusted partner and committed advocate for diplomacy and democracy. Klobuchar has already taken a good step by committing to the climate accord — and I applaud her for that. As her constituent, I urge her to take the next crucial step of committing to rejoin the nuclear agreement. Not only is it the right choice for America and for our allies, it is the only choice that keeps our nation safe from a nuclear threat from Iran.

Jacob Thomas, of Minneapolis, is an Air Force veteran and member of Common Defense, a grassroots organization of veterans. 

The Risk of Nuclear War Continues to Rise (Revelation 16)

„In general terms, the technology to develop nuclear weapons is an old one, dating back 70 years, and after that lots of progress has been made in technology,“ said Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). „You can get the information, you can get the material, the education. It’s available.“The nuclear weapons club has remained small; only a handful of countries have fully developed programs. But Amano, the world’s so-called nuke chief, warns that „the current environment“ makes it „easier for countries to proliferate.“„That is one of the reasons why we have to strengthen our activities to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and verify that all the material and equipment stay for a peaceful purpose,“ he said.The IAEA was formed in 1957 and is charged with promoting the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technology — and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Amano, a Japanese diplomat who became head of the nuclear watchdog agency in 2009, sounded one reassuring note in a wide-ranging interview with CBS News: The threat „does not keep me up at night… the IAEA is doing its job.“

Here’s how Amano sees the state of nuclear technology in three key countries: North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

North Korea’s nuclear program advancing

Amano said that over the last decade North Korea’s „nuclear program has significantly expanded.“

„Over the past year, activities at some facilities continued or developed further,“ he said.

His comments come after warnings from South Korean officials and independent analysts that, with U.S. efforts to negotiate the „complete denuclearization“ of the Kim regime stalled, North Korea has rebuilt its primary long-range rocket test site and is also operating its main nuclear research facility.

The North has explicitly warned that it could resume nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Amano said the IAEA „is the only international organization that can verify and monitor denuclearization in an impartial, independent and objective manner,“ but with the U.S. talks — the only real current dialogue with North Korea — going nowhere, there was little hope that inspectors could enter the isolated country any time soon.

Ever hopeful, Amano noted that the IAEA was ready and able to send a team of inspectors into the country „within weeks,“ if an agreement were to be reached.

Iran still sticking to nuke deal

„I don’t see activities that are contrary to the Iran nuclear agreement … but we need to monitor very, very carefully,“ Amano said of the international agreement that the Trump administration unilaterally walked away from last year.

All of the other parties to the agreement hammered out by former President Barack Obama; Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain and the European Union, are still trying to keep it viable.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The IAEA has said consistently since the agreement was reached that Iran continues to abide by it, and he confirmed on Tuesday to CBS News that the agency’s „inspectors have had access to all the sites and locations in Iran which they needed to visit.“

Mr. Trump had long bashed the deal as too generous to Tehran. He pulled the U.S. out for that reason — the White House has never claimed that Tehran was in violation of the deal.

„So far they are implementing“ the agreement, Amano said of Iran. He noted that the U.S. is „a very important country, so, of course, it (the U.S. withdrawal) has impact.“

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear energy bid

Saudi Arabia is eager to join the nuclear energy community, as rapid economic development has left it hungry for electricity. The kingdom is currently reviewing bids from international companies to build its two first nuclear reactors, but it is not currently held to the most rigid international standards for nuclear oversight. That, experts and the IAEA say, is a problem.

The Trump administration has appeared keen, regardless, to push ahead and secure the contract to help build a Saudi nuclear energy program for a U.S. firm. The White House has said if the U.S. doesn’t get the contract, a country with less interest in ensuring a verifiably safe and legal nuclear program may get it instead.

Westinghouse is leading a U.S. consortium competing for the contract against companies from China, France, Russia and South Korea.

In the late 90s the IAEA adopted a new, stricter monitoring program known as the „additional protocol.“ Many countries with nuclear programs, old and new, have agreed to adhere to the new oversight mechanism, but not Saudi Arabia.

Amano said the additional protocol is, „a powerful verification tool that gives the Agency broader access to information about all parts of a State’s nuclear fuel cycle. It also gives our inspectors greater access to sites and locations, in some cases with as little as two hours‘ notice.“

Saudi Arabia insists it is only pursuing nuclear energy, not weapons, but remarks by the conservative Islamic kingdom’s future king have led to concerns that it could change its mind on that point.

Last year Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told „60 Minutes“ that his country „does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb — but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.

„I think there is indeed a danger of a slippery slope,“ Gary Sick, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, told CBS News. He believes Saudi Arabia should be held to the same strict standard Iran has been.

The world „should insist on the same level of assurance; (that) under no circumstances will it ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons,“ Sick told CBS News.

Brett Bruen, the former Global Engagement Director at the White House, told CBS News that Saudi Arabia „is precisely the sort of country that shouldn’t have access to our nuclear technology. Even if we see the need for an alliance of convenience against Iran and ISIS, that doesn’t necessitate that we hand over the recipe for our secret sauce.“

The IAEA has been working with Saudi Arabia for several years, and even the soft-spoken Amano wants additional verification for the kingdom.

„Not only Saudi Arabia, but I am asking all the countries to implement the additional protocol. This would increase confidence,“ Amano said.

The Nuclear Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 16)

First of all, it is safe to say that detonating the world’s arsenal of nukes would be a Very Bad Idea.

A nuclear confrontation involving 100 or so warheads would plunge the world into a nasty nuclear winter. This would involve years of winter-like temperatures and extreme levels of crop failure, sending the global food system into a tailspin and creating unprecedented levels of famine. As few as five could drag us into a nuclear autumn, less severe, sure, but still pretty devastating. As a result, we could lose 20 to 80 percent of global rainfall and up to 1 billion lives. 

Now, if we consider the world’s entire nuclear stock, you are looking at around 15,000 warheads. The US and Russia both possess a little under 7,000 each, with the rest split unevenly among the remaining nuclear powers – the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. It’s fair to say that these weapons could do quite a lot of damage.

In case you are wondering what level of destruction can be done with 15,000 nukes, you will be pleased to know that YouTube channel Kurzgesagt­ – In a Nutshell has your back. In an animation posted on Sunday, they answer the question, „What would happen if all the world’s nuclear bombs were detonated at once?“

The answer is a lot.

Kurzgesagt­ – In a Nutshell/YouTube

According to scientists consulted by the host of the channel, it takes just three nuclear warheads to destroy one of the planet’s 4,500 cities. This means that even after you have taken out every urban area of 100,000 or more people, you have 1,500 warheads left over.

If, instead, you decide to put all your nukes in one basket and drop that basket in the Amazon, you could unleash an explosion with the force of 3 billion tons of TNT, according to the host. That is equivalent to 15 Krakatoa 1883 eruptions, the most powerful volcanic eruption on record.

It would trigger a 50-kilometer (30-mile) fireball that would destroy all within a 3,000-kilometer (1,800-mile) radius of the blast. This would generate a series of pressure waves that would circle the world in the following weeks. Meanwhile, a mushroom cloud would extend to the upper levels of the Earth’s atmosphere and millions of tons of incinerated material would be catapulted into the skies.

A (relatively) small crater 10 kilometers (6 miles) across would mark the site of the explosion, while the entire continent of South America would be engulfed in extreme wildfires that would make the Californian flames of last summer (the deadliest and most destructive in history) look minute in comparison.

But this is when the „unpleasant part“ begins, the host says. Because this is when extreme levels of radiation would do their damage, killing living things. Everywhere from the crater to hundreds of kilometers downwind would be simply uninhabitable, while the rest of the planet would be doused in the fallout carried into the atmosphere by the mushroom cloud. The world would be plunged into a nuclear winter.

Still, we are told, „human life will go on“. It just won’t be very nice.

For an explanation of what would happen if we put every bit of uranium on Earth into a nuclear bomb and watched it burn, check out the video here.

Renewing the Cold War (Revelation 16)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The demise of the only U.S.-Russia arms control pact limiting deployed nuclear weapons would make it harder for each to gauge the other’s intentions, giving both incentives to expand their arsenals, according to a study released on Monday.

The expiration of the New START accord also may undermine faith in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls on nuclear states such as the United States and Russia to work toward nuclear disarmament, as well as influence China’s nuclear posture, historically one of restraint.

The study, produced by the CNA Corp non-profit research group, is the most comprehensive public examination to date of the consequences of New START’s demise. It argues for extending the 2011 treaty, which expires in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree.

The Trump administration is deliberating whether to extend the pact, which President Donald Trump has reviled as a bad deal and his national security adviser, John Bolton, has long opposed. Russia has said it is prepared to extend New START but wants to discuss what it regards as U.S. violations first.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the administration’s deliberations.

Trump has said Washington will withdraw from another arms pact, the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, this summer unless Moscow ends its alleged violations, compounding tense ties. Russia denies violating the INF treaty.

The New START treaty required the United States and Russia to cut their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades, and limit delivery systems – land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers.

It also includes extensive transparency measures requiring each side to allow the other to carry out 10 inspections of strategic nuclear bases each year; give 48 hours notice before new missiles covered by the treaty leave their factories; and provide notifications before ballistic missile launches.

Both sides must also exchange data declaring their deployed strategic nuclear warheads, delivery vehicles and launchers, as well as breakdowns of how many of each are located at individual bases.

All of that would end if the treaty expires.

„Neither country would have the same degree of confidence in its ability to assess the other’s precise warhead levels,“ CNA’s Vince Manzo wrote in the study (bit.ly/2JUdSvW). „Worst-case planning is also more likely as a result.

“Increased opacity between U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces would unfold within the broader context of growing mistrust and diverging perceptions about strategy, intentions, and perceptions,” he added.

Without the data, the United States would have to reassign its overworked satellites, possibly devoting more surveillance to Russia and less to China, Iran and North Korea.

Another casualty of the treaty’s expiration could be global nonproliferation, making non-nuclear states doubt the United States and Russia will keep working toward nuclear disarmament under the NPT, the study said.

 

While it was impossible to predict how China – estimated to have about 280 nuclear warheads – would react to New START’s expiry, the study cites factors that could make Beijing expand its capability.

Without a treaty limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, China could overestimate their arsenals. Unconstrained U.S. and Russian forces could also strengthen voices in China that view a large arsenal as symbolically important, as well as those already advocating for more nuclear weapons.

The study recommends steps for the United States and Russia to mitigate the risks from the treaty’s expiration, including voluntarily sticking to its limits and continuing to exchange data. It also recommends Washington propose annual exchanges of nuclear weapons information and dialogue with Beijing.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Mary Milliken and Dan Grebler

Nuclear War is a Far Worse Challenge (Rev 16)

Nuclear war worse than climate change challenge

March 28 — To the Editor:

When it comes to threats to our environment, the consequences of increased greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change has received most of our attention. However, many of us still clearly remember the Cold War between the superpowers and living under the constant threat of a nuclear war. That real threat still exists today.

Both the US and Russia have over a thousand nuclear-armed missiles on hair-trigger alert threatening population centers of our planet with consequences that are both more rapid and longer-lasting than the challenges posed by climate change. A nuclear war may not be intentional, but could be triggered by unexpected accidents or misinterpretations, occurrences that have happened in the past but were luckily defused before situations got out of hand. While both of these nations have abundant conventional weapons to protect their respective countries, nuclear weapons represent to them objects of respect and fear. In fact, as recently as last year, verbal exchanges between Russia and the US have heated up with both sides threatening to upgrade and increase their nuclear arsenals.

Money for such efforts would be unnecessary and a huge waste of taxpayer money and could be put to better use improving the lives of the residents of their countries, e.g. addressing our global climate change challenges.

I would like to congratulate the Portsmouth City Council for their support of a recent resolution to ask the US government to renounce the “First-Use” of nuclear weapons, increase safety measures surrounding our current nuclear weapons, and cancel all nuclear weapons upgrades which would cost taxpayers $2.7 trillion without increasing our security or providing more protection.

Such a resolution is also in line with the membership of the Portsmouth Mayor in the international organization “Mayors for Peace”.

Peter Somssich, State Representative / District 27

American Idiots Clamoring To Attack Iran

Hawks Clamoring To Attack Iran

Emile Nakhleh1 day ago

As Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman clamor for a war against Iran, they seem to have conveniently forgotten the destruction and mayhem wrought by the American invasion of Iraq 16 years ago.

These war drummers are underestimating the potential negative consequences of the war and overestimating the Iranian people’s dislike of their theocratic regime. They, like the advocates of the Iraqi invasion in the winter of 2002 and early spring 2003, are confusing Iranians’ dislike of the ayatollahs with their potential embrace of a foreign invader.

On the eve of the Iraq war, former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the Vice President Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President David Addington all claimed that the Iraqi invasion aimed at liberating the country from the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. Removing Saddam from power, they maintained, would eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and bring stability, security, and democracy to Iraq.

As developments unfolded over the past 16 years, the “liberation” claims proved to be bogus. The invasion and the decision to de-Ba’athify Iraq and dissolve the Iraqi military created an environment conducive to sectarianism, insurgency, and terrorism. The vacuum that followed the regime collapse, the incompetence of the American administration in the “Green Zone,” and the pervasive corruption of the new Iraqi governing councils was quickly filled by pro-Iranian militias, al-Qaeda, and later the Islamic State. The promise of stability and security was replaced by chaos, bloodshed, and mayhem.

The massive destruction of Iraq and the horrendous human and material cost the American “liberation” caused for the country will be child’s play compared to what could happen if Trump and his Israeli and Saudi allies decide to attack Iran. Unlike Iraq—which the British cobbled together after World War One out of the Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds under a minority Sunni rule—  Iran has been in existence for centuries with a vast territory and a huge population. If attacked, Iran has the capability to retaliate against its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. Its air and missile forces could quickly destroy the oil and gas facilities and the water and power grids on the Arab side of the Gulf. A war against Iran could easily spread to the Gulf and the Levant. The entire region could go up in flames.

Hubris and Ignorance

The Bush administration was not willing or interested in answering the “morning after” questions regarding the post-Saddam future of Iraq. Whenever I and others urged policy makers to consider the law of unintended consequences and what could go wrong in Iraq following the invasion, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld dismissed our concerns and arrogantly claimed that the U.S. military and civilian administration following the invasion would be able to control the situation in Iraq. Their hubris regarding America’s power and ignorance of Iraqi realities on the ground led to a total breakdown of Iraqi society following the demise of the Saddam regime.

The Trump administration seems to be equally arrogant and ignorant about Iran. It has displayed a similar disregard for strategic thinking about the future of Iran beyond the clerical regime. The Iranophobes within the administration seem to be more obsessed with Iran than the Bush administration was ever with Iraq.

Instead of relying on calm, expert-based analysis, Secretary of State Pompeo has made a series of trips to the region that have involved bullying, threats, and hilarious, if not tragic, mischaracterizations. In a recent conversation with Christian broadcasters in Jerusalem, Pompeo waxed eloquent about God’s presumed divine plan designating Trump as a possible savior of the “Jewish people,” Sunni Islam, Maronite Lebanon, Alawite Syria, and the rest of the world from the perceived modern-day Persian “Hamans.”

Instead of relying on calm, expert-based analysis, Secretary of State Pompeo has made a series of trips to the region that have involved bullying, threats, and hilarious, if not tragic, mischaracterizations.

The American foreign policy process is in serious trouble if Pompeo truly believes that Trump could be the twenty-first-century version of Queen Esther or Hadassah and that this religious vision could chart the path to a grand strategy in the Middle East. When warped religious interpretations are offered as a substitute for rationally debated policy, whether by a radical Wahhabi Salafist, an evangelical Christian, or an ultra-Orthodox Jew, democratic governments should fear for their future. Invoking the divine as an inspiration or a justification for violence against another country, much as Osama bin Laden did on the eve of 9/11, is a rejection of rational discourse and a return to the barbarism of previous epochs.

Pompeo’s imagined “shuttle diplomacy” in the Middle East has been reduced to supporting Netanyahu’s upcoming election bid, threatening Hezbollah in Lebanon, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and lambasting any state that does business with Iran. His ambassador-designee to Saudi Arabia, John Abizaid, told Congress that the threat from Iran supersedes concerns for human rights in Arab autocracies.

Furthermore, Trump administration policy operatives, including John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani, have treated an Iranian group called the Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK as a legitimate alternative to the clerical regime in Iran. The MEK, however, is a terrorist cult that has received funding from all sorts of dubious sources and is often used as a tool by outside groups, states, and organizations, including intelligence services of regional and international state actors, to further an anti-Iran agenda.

Similarly, the Bush administration viewed Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi émigré, and the organization he founded, the Iraqi National Congress, as the legitimate alternative to the Saddam regime in Iraq. Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld fully bought into Chalabi’s snake-oil sales. Chalabi was instrumental in instigating America’s invasion of Iraq at the cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of American and Iraqi lives. Iraq has never recovered from that ill-fated, unnecessary war. Bolton and Giuliani are as susceptible to MEK’s claims as Cheney and Rumsfeld were to Chalabi’s.

For the sake of whipping up regional animus toward Iran and preparing the ground for a war against the “Persian menace,” Pompeo in effect has told Arab autocrats that so long as they keep mouthing anti-Iran rhetoric, Washington will ignore their despicable human rights record and the continued repression of their people. The thousands of political prisoners in Egyptian, Saudi, and Bahraini jails will have to wait for another day.

Arab regimes have become masters in the art of communicating with their American benefactors. During the Cold War, they received American aid as long as they brandished anti-Communist slogans. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and with the rise of terrorism, these same strongmen were happy to adopt an anti-terrorism rhetoric in order to continue receiving American military and economic aid. Their current anti-Iran public posture is the latest phase in their communication with Washington and is as equally profitable as the previous two phases.

When some regional politicians demurred about getting tough with Iran, as happened during Pompeo’s recent visit to Lebanon, he did not hesitate to threaten them with a panoply of economic sanctions. Vice President Mike Pence used similar language at the recent meeting in Warsaw to berate and even threaten America’s European allies if they dared to take a conciliatory posture toward Iran. The European reaction to Pence’s speech showed that his pathetic performance backfired. Pompeo’s Warsaw meeting ended in utter failure.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Managing Iran’s malign behavior through the Iran nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a stroke of diplomatic genius, which former Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz negotiated. The Obama administration placed Iran’s objectionable behavior in two baskets—a nuclear basket, which they addressed through the Iran deal, and a non-nuclear one, which the Obama administration was to address once the nuclear inspection became operational and Iran fully compliant. That approach would have worked: most experts judged Iran to be in compliance with the conditions of the nuclear deal. Unfortunately, President Trump decided not to recertify the agreement.

Trump’s decision contradicted the judgment of most nuclear and intelligence experts about Iran’s compliance. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for example, affirmed Iran’s compliance in more than a dozen of its successive quarterly reports and as recently as earlier this month.

In his open testimony to Congress in January, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated that Iran continued to comply with the deal even after Trump announced his intention to scuttle it. Coats said, “We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.” Iran was of course cheating in other areas, according to the DNI’s testimony, but not on the nuclear agreement.

In a statement issued April 25 of last year, over two dozen Israeli senior military and intelligence officials judged that it was “in Israel’s best interest that the United States maintains the nuclear agreement with Iran.” The Israeli statement went on to say that “The current deal is better than no deal” and that “Iran’s destructive regional policies and actions, its support for acts of terrorism, its presence in Syria, and its ballistic missiles program should be dealt with outside the framework of the agreement.” This was precisely the position of the Obama administration when it negotiated the deal in the first place.

The Path Forward

Fifty-plus retired American generals and diplomats, in a statement published earlier this month, urged the Trump administration to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and work on resolving outstanding concerns with Iran diplomatically. They advised against a war because they saw no good outcome. The statement did not seek to exonerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior and its involvement in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon. Nor did the retired senior leaders ignore Iran’s link to terrorism. The statement, however, pointed out, among other things, that the 2015 nuclear deal “put limitations on Iran’s nuclear program that provided assurances that it would not be used to develop weapons, improved American intelligence about potential future development and significantly improved the security of the United States and our allies.”

Additionally, the retired generals and diplomats emphasized that Iran is complying with the agreement and that, under the JCPOA, Iran is barred from engaging in nuclear weapons development program, which prevents it from producing a nuclear device. “Reentering the agreement and lifting the sanctions will greatly enhance United States’ ability to negotiate improvements and enable us to address concerns with the existing agreement.”

Coming from these military and policy realists, who are dedicated to the security of this country, Israel, and America’s allies, this advice is grounded in sane strategic analysis, not in theological whimsy.

The Nuclear Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 16)

335 Million Dead: If America Launched A Massive Nuclear War on Russia and China

Overall, an all-out U.S. attack on the Soviet Union, China and satellite countries in 1962 would have killed 335 million people within the first seventy-two hours.

Overall, an all-out U.S. attack on the Soviet Union, China and satellite countries in 1962 would have killed 335 million people within the first seventy-two hours.“

It is no exaggeration to say that for those who grew up during the Cold War, all-out nuclear war was “the ultimate nightmare.” The prospect of an ordinary day interrupted by air-raid sirens, klaxons and the searing heat of a thermonuclear explosion was a very real, albeit remote, possibility. Television shows such as The Day After and Threads realistically portrayed both a nuclear attack and the gradual disintegration of society in the aftermath. In an all-out nuclear attack, most of the industrialized world would have been bombed back to the Stone Age, with hundreds of millions killed outright and perhaps as many as a billion or more dying of radiation, disease and famine in the postwar period.

(This first appeared several years ago.)

During much of the Cold War, the United States’ nuclear warfighting plan was known as the SIOP, or the Single Integrated Operating Plan. The first SIOP, introduced in 1962, was known as SIOP-62, and its effects on the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact and China were documented in a briefing paper created for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and brought to light in 2011 by the National Security Archive. The paper presupposed a new Berlin crisis, similar to the one that took place in 1961, but escalating to full-scale war in western Europe.

Although the war scenario was fictional, the post-attack estimates were very real. According to the paper, the outlook for Communist bloc countries subjected to the full weight of American atomic firepower was grim. The paper divided attack scenarios into two categories: one in which the U.S. nuclear Alert Force, a percentage of overall nuclear forces kept on constant alert, struck the Soviet Union and its allies; and a second scenario where the full weight of the nuclear force, known as the Full Force, was used.

Under SIOP, “about 1,000” installations that were related to “nuclear delivery capability” would be struck. The scenario, which assumed advance warning of a Soviet attack and an American preemptive strike, would see the Alert Force attacking 75 percent of these targets. The attack would be a largely “counterforce” strike, in which U.S. nuclear forces attacked Soviet, Warsaw Pact and Chinese command-and-control and nuclear forces. The report states that 83 to 88 percent of all targets would be destroyed with 70 percent assurance.

In an Alert Force attack, 199 Soviet cities with populations of fifty thousand or greater would be struck. This would turn 56 percent of the urban population and 37 percent of the total population into casualties, most of whom would eventually die due to a post-attack breakdown of society. In China, forty-nine cities would be struck, turning 41 percent of the urban population into casualties and 10 percent of the overall population. In eastern Europe, only purely military targets would be struck, with a projected 1,378,000 killed by American nuclear attacks.

An all-out Full Force attack would be much worse. A Full Force attack would devastate 295 cities, leaving only five cities with populations of fifty thousand or more unscathed. 72 percent of the urban population and 54 percent of the overall population would become casualties—as the National Security Archive points out, that amounts to 108 million likely killed out of a total population of 217 million. In China, seventy-eight cities would be struck, affecting 53 percent of the urban population and 16 percent of the overall population. Casualties in eastern Europe would more than double, to 4,004,000.

Overall, an all-out U.S. attack on the Soviet Union, China and satellite countries in 1962 would have killed 335 million people within the first seventy-two hours.

The SIOP-62 report does not attempt to estimate U.S. casualties in a nuclear war. However, a 1978 report prepared for the Pentagon’s Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), “The Effects of Nuclear War,” spelled out in grim detail what would happen if the Soviet Union unleashed its arsenal on the United States.

The OTA report states that, in the event of a Soviet attack against U.S. nuclear forces, other military targets, economic targets and population targets, an attack could be estimated to kill between sixty and eighty-eight million Americans. With enough warning, major cities and industrial areas could be evacuated, but that would only lower the number of dead to between fifty-one and forty-seven million. Attacks on U.S. allies, including the NATO nations, Japan and South Korea, would undoubtedly occur but are not modelled in the study.

Another report, “Casualties Due to the Blast, Heat, and Radioactive Fallout from Various Hypothetical Nuclear Attacks on the United States,” postulated a Soviet attack against “1,215 U.S. strategic-nuclear targets. The attack involves almost 3,000 warheads with a total yield of about 1,340 megatons.” Because the attacks are carried out against hardened facilities, particularly MX and Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic-missile silos, the attacks are envisioned using SS-18 “Satan” ICBMs, each carrying ten 550-to-750-kiloton warheads. Attacks against U.S. bomber and refueling forces are carried out by ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles fired from off the coastline.

The result of even this modest attack, which largely spares U.S. cities to attack nuclear forces in the Midwest, is thirteen to thirty-four million deaths and twenty-five to sixty-four million total casualties. Still, bombarded by 1,215 nukes, the United States would lose far fewer people than Strategic Air Command estimated the Soviet Union would lose in 1962.

The discrepancy is probably because of the larger yields of U.S. nuclear weapons in the 1960s versus Soviet nukes in the 1980s, but also because at the time of the SAC report, Soviet nuclear forces were primarily bomber-based. The Soviet Union had between 300 and 320 nuclear weapons in 1962, all but forty of which were bomber-based. Bomber bases may have been closer to major population areas. A major draw of U.S. nuclear weapons to Soviet cities would have also been the presence of local airports, which would have functioned as dispersal airfields for nuclear-armed bombers. On the other hand, the Soviet attack would largely hit ICBM fields and bomber bases in low-population-density regions of the Midwest, plus a handful of submarine bases on both coasts.

As devastating as these projections are, all readily admit they don’t tell the entire story. While these three studies model the immediate effects of a nuclear attack, long-term problems might kill more people than the attack itself. The destruction of cities would deny the millions of injured, even those who might otherwise easily survive, even basic health care. What remains of government—in any country—would be hard pressed to maintain order in the face of dwindling food and energy supplies, a contaminated landscape, the spread of disease and masses of refugees. Over a twelve-month period, depending on the severity of the attack, total deaths attributable to the attacks could double.

While the threat of nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union has ended, the United States now faces the prospect of a similar war with Russia or China. The effects of a nuclear war in the twenty-first century would be no less severe. The steps to avoiding nuclear war, however, are the same as they were during the Cold War: arms control, confidence-building measures undertaken by both sides and a de-escalation of tensions.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

Hawks Clamoring To Attack Iran

March 28, 2019

Emile Nakhleh

by Emile Nakhleh

As Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman clamor for a war against Iran, they seem to have conveniently forgotten the destruction and mayhem wrought by the American invasion of Iraq 16 years ago.

These war drummers are underestimating the potential negative consequences of the war and overestimating the Iranian people’s dislike of their theocratic regime. They, like the advocates of the Iraqi invasion in the winter of 2002 and early spring 2003, are confusing Iranians’ dislike of the ayatollahs with their potential embrace of a foreign invader.

On the eve of the Iraq war, former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the Vice President Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President David Addington all claimed that the Iraqi invasion aimed at liberating the country from the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. Removing Saddam from power, they maintained, would eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and bring stability, security, and democracy to Iraq.

As developments unfolded over the past 16 years, the “liberation” claims proved to be bogus. The invasion and the decision to de-Ba’athify Iraq and dissolve the Iraqi military created an environment conducive to sectarianism, insurgency, and terrorism. The vacuum that followed the regime collapse, the incompetence of the American administration in the “Green Zone,” and the pervasive corruption of the new Iraqi governing councils was quickly filled by pro-Iranian militias, al-Qaeda, and later the Islamic State. The promise of stability and security was replaced by chaos, bloodshed, and mayhem.

The massive destruction of Iraq and the horrendous human and material cost the American “liberation” caused for the country will be child’s play compared to what could happen if Trump and his Israeli and Saudi allies decide to attack Iran. Unlike Iraq—which the British cobbled together after World War One out of the Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds under a minority Sunni rule—  Iran has been in existence for centuries with a vast territory and a huge population. If attacked, Iran has the capability to retaliate against its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. Its air and missile forces could quickly destroy the oil and gas facilities and the water and power grids on the Arab side of the Gulf. A war against Iran could easily spread to the Gulf and the Levant. The entire region could go up in flames.

Hubris and Ignorance

The Bush administration was not willing or interested in answering the “morning after” questions regarding the post-Saddam future of Iraq. Whenever I and others urged policy makers to consider the law of unintended consequences and what could go wrong in Iraq following the invasion, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld dismissed our concerns and arrogantly claimed that the U.S. military and civilian administration following the invasion would be able to control the situation in Iraq. Their hubris regarding America’s power and ignorance of Iraqi realities on the ground led to a total breakdown of Iraqi society following the demise of the Saddam regime.

The Trump administration seems to be equally arrogant and ignorant about Iran. It has displayed a similar disregard for strategic thinking about the future of Iran beyond the clerical regime. The Iranophobes within the administration seem to be more obsessed with Iran than the Bush administration was ever with Iraq.

Instead of relying on calm, expert-based analysis, Secretary of State Pompeo has made a series of trips to the region that have involved bullying, threats, and hilarious, if not tragic, mischaracterizations. In a recent conversation with Christian broadcasters in Jerusalem, Pompeo waxed eloquent about God’s presumed divine plan designating Trump as a possible savior of the “Jewish people,” Sunni Islam, Maronite Lebanon, Alawite Syria, and the rest of the world from the perceived modern-day Persian “Hamans.”

The American foreign policy process is in serious trouble if Pompeo truly believes that Trump could be the twenty-first-century version of Queen Esther or Hadassah and that this religious vision could chart the path to a grand strategy in the Middle East. When warped religious interpretations are offered as a substitute for rationally debated policy, whether by a radical Wahhabi Salafist, an evangelical Christian, or an ultra-Orthodox Jew, democratic governments should fear for their future. Invoking the divine as an inspiration or a justification for violence against another country, much as Osama bin Laden did on the eve of 9/11, is a rejection of rational discourse and a return to the barbarism of previous epochs.

Pompeo’s imagined “shuttle diplomacy” in the Middle East has been reduced to supporting Netanyahu’s upcoming election bid, threatening Hezbollah in Lebanon, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and lambasting any state that does business with Iran. His ambassador-designee to Saudi Arabia, John Abizaid, told Congress that the threat from Iran supersedes concerns for human rights in Arab autocracies.

Furthermore, Trump administration policy operatives, including John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani, have treated an Iranian group called the Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK as a legitimate alternative to the clerical regime in Iran. The MEK, however, is a terrorist cult that has received funding from all sorts of dubious sources and is often used as a tool by outside groups, states, and organizations, including intelligence services of regional and international state actors, to further an anti-Iran agenda.

Similarly, the Bush administration viewed Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi émigré, and the organization he founded, the Iraqi National Congress, as the legitimate alternative to the Saddam regime in Iraq. Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld fully bought into Chalabi’s snake-oil sales. Chalabi was instrumental in instigating America’s invasion of Iraq at the cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of American and Iraqi lives. Iraq has never recovered from that ill-fated, unnecessary war. Bolton and Giuliani are as susceptible to MEK’s claims as Cheney and Rumsfeld were to Chalabi’s.

For the sake of whipping up regional animus toward Iran and preparing the ground for a war against the “Persian menace,” Pompeo in effect has told Arab autocrats that so long as they keep mouthing anti-Iran rhetoric, Washington will ignore their despicable human rights record and the continued repression of their people. The thousands of political prisoners in Egyptian, Saudi, and Bahraini jails will have to wait for another day.

Arab regimes have become masters in the art of communicating with their American benefactors. During the Cold War, they received American aid as long as they brandished anti-Communist slogans. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and with the rise of terrorism, these same strongmen were happy to adopt an anti-terrorism rhetoric in order to continue receiving American military and economic aid. Their current anti-Iran public posture is the latest phase in their communication with Washington and is as equally profitable as the previous two phases.

When some regional politicians demurred about getting tough with Iran, as happened during Pompeo’s recent visit to Lebanon, he did not hesitate to threaten them with a panoply of economic sanctions. Vice President Mike Pence used similar language at the recent meeting in Warsaw to berate and even threaten America’s European allies if they dared to take a conciliatory posture toward Iran. The European reaction to Pence’s speech showed that his pathetic performance backfired. Pompeo’s Warsaw meeting ended in utter failure.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Managing Iran’s malign behavior through the Iran nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a stroke of diplomatic genius, which former Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz negotiated. The Obama administration placed Iran’s objectionable behavior in two baskets—a nuclear basket, which they addressed through the Iran deal, and a non-nuclear one, which the Obama administration was to address once the nuclear inspection became operational and Iran fully compliant. That approach would have worked: most experts judged Iran to be in compliance with the conditions of the nuclear deal. Unfortunately, President Trump decided not to recertify the agreement.

Trump’s decision contradicted the judgment of most nuclear and intelligence experts about Iran’s compliance. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for example, affirmed Iran’s compliance in more than a dozen of its successive quarterly reports and as recently as earlier this month.

In his open testimony to Congress in January, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated that Iran continued to comply with the deal even after Trump announced his intention to scuttle it. Coats said, “We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.” Iran was of course cheating in other areas, according to the DNI’s testimony, but not on the nuclear agreement.

In a statement issued April 25 of last year, over two dozen Israeli senior military and intelligence officials judged that it was “in Israel’s best interest that the United States maintains the nuclear agreement with Iran.” The Israeli statement went on to say that “The current deal is better than no deal” and that “Iran’s destructive regional policies and actions, its support for acts of terrorism, its presence in Syria, and its ballistic missiles program should be dealt with outside the framework of the agreement.” This was precisely the position of the Obama administration when it negotiated the deal in the first place.

The Path Forward

Fifty-plus retired American generals and diplomats, in a statement published earlier this month, urged the Trump administration to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and work on resolving outstanding concerns with Iran diplomatically. They advised against a war because they saw no good outcome. The statement did not seek to exonerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior and its involvement in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon. Nor did the retired senior leaders ignore Iran’s link to terrorism. The statement, however, pointed out, among other things, that the 2015 nuclear deal “put limitations on Iran’s nuclear program that provided assurances that it would not be used to develop weapons, improved American intelligence about potential future development and significantly improved the security of the United States and our allies.”

Additionally, the retired generals and diplomats emphasized that Iran is complying with the agreement and that, under the JCPOA, Iran is barred from engaging in nuclear weapons development program, which prevents it from producing a nuclear device. “Reentering the agreement and lifting the sanctions will greatly enhance United States’ ability to negotiate improvements and enable us to address concerns with the existing agreement.”

Coming from these military and policy realists, who are dedicated to the security of this country, Israel, and America’s allies, this advice is grounded in sane strategic analysis, not in theological whimsy.

The Speed of the Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 16)

Russia’s New Nuclear Missiles Squeeze Response Time

As treaties end, Russia focuses on hypersonic weapons that could “tighten the noose” on current U.S. defenses

Matthew Gault

March 27, 2019

Both the United States and Russia last month pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), a Cold War–era pact that prohibited land-based ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 311 and 3,420 miles. That agreement limited just one class of weapons, but it is not the only accord poised to end: The much-broader New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) will expire on February 5 next year, unless both parties agree to extend it—which they may not do.

New START limits the number of missiles the U.S. and Russia deploy, with an eye toward reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world. Without it, for the first time since 1972 there would be no limit on how many warheads either nation can build and deploy. As tensions rise, both countries are looking to modernize their nuclear weapons, and Russia in particular is teasing terrifying new missiles that—if they work—could bypass the U.S.’s elaborate system of ground- and satellite-based defenses.

“The Russians really hate missile defense,” says Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif. “They really don’t like the possibility that they might be outmatched technologically. So there’s a whole battery of Russian programs—from the doomsday torpedoes, to nuclear-powered cruise missiles, to hypersonic reentry vehicles, to anti-satellite weapons.”

Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled six new weapons during a governmental address. The most impressive, according to nuclear experts, were the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, the nuclear-powered cruise missile Skyfall and the RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). These three are the crown jewels in Russia’s aggressive new nuclear policy, capable—according to Putin—of circumventing U.S. missile defense systems. Currently, American defenses are designed to knock an incoming nuke out of the air before it can hit its target—but this was already a complicated and difficult task before the development of hypersonics.

Although Russia’s new weapons sound frightening, none has actually been deployed yet. They may be ready in the next year or two, but “none of them are fully operational,” says Philip Coyle, a board member of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Coyle (who has also served as U.S. assistant secretary of defense), explains that some have been tested, but “none of them have been so successful that they can claim to have operational capability.”

But that doesn’t mean Coyle is not worried, especially about hypersonic threats. “Some of those would be impossible for United States missile defense systems [to counter],” he says, “especially the hypersonic air-to-ground-system and the hypersonic glide system, both of which [Putin] said had been successfully tested.” The current crop of weapons that defense experts label as hypersonic reach speeds greater than 3,000 mph.

Inside the Nuclear Arsenal

Other countries, including the United States and China, have also tested hypersonic weapons—but it is Russia’s hypersonic glide vehicle, the Avangard, that has garnered the defense community’s most intense attention. Glide vehicles could theoretically combine the maneuverability of a cruise missile with the speed of an ICBM. On a traditional nuclear launch involving an ICBM, a powerful rocket sends the warhead on a trajectory similar to a space launch (long-range ICBMs even go suborbital) before it turns around and plummets to Earth at hypersonic speeds. Glide vehicles like the Avangard would ride an ICBM into the sky, but they would then be released and soar along at the top of the atmosphere—above sensor range—before heading to their targets.

However, not everyone is fretting about high-speed glide vehicles. “I’m not so impressed by those,” Lewis says. He says the vehicles themselves, once released, will no longer be traveling at hypersonic speeds (although other experts disagree with this assessment). “The missile is gliding, so it actually slows down quite a bit and makes a much better target [than traditional ICBMs] for missiles defenses,” Lewis says. The vehicle could supposedly move to evade a defense system, but Lewis remains unconvinced. “It’s great that it can maneuver so that it doesn’t come into the range of missile defenses. But if it does, it’s going to be a much brighter target because it’s moving more slowly and it’ll be superhot,” he says. “The hypersonic gliders people are talking about actually represent slower reentry than what currently exists.”

Instead Lewis worries more about the Skyfall, the nuclear-powered cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead. “I’m a little bothered by the menagerie of science fiction ideas that the Russians are working on,” he says. “We don’t know much about the technology behind that one (Skyfall), but certainly when the U.S. investigated the idea it was pretty nasty in terms of radiation released just to power it.” According to Putin, the Skyfall is a superpowered Tomahawk cruise missile launched via ground or air. The best Tomahawks can travel 1,550 miles—but with a nuclear reactor powering it, the Skyfall effectively has an unlimited range. Russian military sources reported the country had successfully tested the cruise missile in January 2019; however, U.S. intelligence suggests that it has yet to demonstrate a range greater than 22 miles, and may not reach its full potential for another 10 years.

Still, a radiation-spewing cruise missile with unlimited range is not Russia’s only frightening new weapon. It is also testing the RS-28 Sarmat, a liquid-fueled ICBM designed to brute-force its way through U.S. missile defense systems. The missile is fast, huge—119 feet tall with a weight of more than 220 tons—and full of weapons: It carries a 10-ton payload, big enough to include 24 separate nuclear-tipped Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles.

And the Sarmat is dangerous for reasons beyond its size. According to Coyle it also has a shorter-than-usual boost phase (the period of an ICBM’s launch when it is rocketing into the atmosphere), which gives U.S. missile defenses less time to shoot it down. If a brief launch window is not enough to protect the missile, Coyle says, “[Putin] also said that Sarmat would carry countermeasures designed to confuse U.S. anti-missiles systems.”

Response Time

The Sarmat’s short boost phase exemplifies what really makes these missiles so terrifying: time. Nuclear warheads are always dangerous, but the U.S. has long relied on its ability to create lead time between launch, detection and response. Essentially, the longer the commander-in-chief has to decide how to react to the news of an ICBM launch, the better. The abilities of these new weapons—short boost times, hypersonic speeds and unlimited range—all eat into those precious minutes. “It’s going to tighten the noose around our necks,” Lewis says. “These systems add complexity and reduce decision time. That’s the kind of change that can really threaten stability.”

Meanwhile, the most recent U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review promised to develop America’s own hypersonic weapons. The reviews also teased the creation of new sensors, floated the idea of turning the F-35—the new U.S. fighter jet—into an ICBM killer, and suggested developing space-based sensors to augment American missile defense systems. But both reviews were long on theory and short on details. In particular, Coyle says, “The Missile Defense Review is unclear about what it is we would deploy in space.”

As for shoring up U.S. defenses, the Pentagon is trying to develop hypersonic counter-measures. At the moment, the country’s missile defense shield includes a mix of 44 ground-based interceptors; Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems deployed in Guam, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and South Korea; and Aegis missile defense systems on U.S. Navy ships around the globe. New plans include everything from thousands of interceptors orbiting the Earth to lasers fired from satellites, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is actively searching for a “glide-breaker,” a way to fight against hypersonic glide vehicles like the Avangard.

However, these protections are still theoretical. At the moment, no one has a concrete solution to the threat—and Russia continues to build and test new and potentially devastating nuclear weapons.