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The escalating danger and unpredictability of nuclear weapons

Nuclear Weapons Are Getting Less Predictable, and More Dangerous  Defense One,  MAY 16, 2019   Facing steerable ICBMs and smaller warheads, the Pentagon seeks better tracking as the White House pursues an unlikely arms-control treaty.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to discuss, among many things, the prospect of a new, comprehensive nuclear-weapons treaty with Russia and China. At the same time, the Pentagon is developing a new generation of nuclear weapons to keep up with cutting-edge missiles and warheads coming out of Moscow. If the administration fails in its ambitious renegotiation, the world is headed toward a new era of heightened nuclear tension not seen in decades.

That’s because these new weapons are eroding the idea of nuclear predictability.

Since the dawn of the nuclear era, the concept of the nuclear triad — bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles — created a shared set of expectations around what the start of a nuclear war would look like. If you were in NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado and you saw ICBMs headed toward the United States, you knew that a nuclear first strike was underway. The Soviets had a similar set of expectations, and this shared understanding created the delicate balance of deterrence — a balance that is becoming unsettled.

Start with Russia’s plans for new, more-maneuverable ICBMs. Such weapons have loosely been dubbed “hypersonic weapons” — something of a misnomer because all intercontinental ballistic missiles travel at hypersonic speeds of five or more times the speed of sound — and they create new problems for America’s defenders. …….

The United States is starting to build a new generation of smaller nukes of its own. The reasoning was laid out in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, and the weapons have been rolling off the assembly line since January……

But Selva also noted that low-yield weapons present the same sort of ambiguity as hypersonic weapons.

“We don’t know what they launched at us until it explodes,” he said.

The U.S. military has responded to Russian weapons development with several other key moves: building a next-generation air-launched cruise missile, hiring Northrop Grumman to build a new penetrating bomber, lowering the nuclear yield on some sub-launched ballistic missiles, and exploring bringing back a sea-launched cruise missile, or SLCM, that could have a nuclear tip……

Lynn Rusten, vice president of the Global Nuclear Policy Program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, said that the ambiguity problem would apply to the SLCMs effort as well. “We use conventional SLCMs a lot in our normal warfare. If you start having nuclear SLCMs deployed as well, there will be a real discrimination in terms of when one of those things is launched, what is that thing coming at you? Where is it going?”……..

Many arms control experts say the first and most important step that the U.S. could take in navigating this far more unpredictable future is to extend New START. Even Selva, who declined to offer a public recommendation about such an extension, said that the United States benefits in multiple ways from the treaty’s mechanisms for keeping track of the parties’ strategic arsenals. ……

A collapse of New START might also cause China to embrace a more aggressive nuclear stance to hedge against rising unpredictability…….

As uncertainty increases, misperceptions become more dangerous. And there is reason to believe the United States is already looking at the situation through various imperfect lenses. One is the belief that China has any interest in trilateral arms control. Another is “escalate to de-escalate.” Some Russia experts, such as Olga Oliker, the Europe and Central Asia director at the International Crisis Group, call it a fiction dreamed up in the West after a misreading of a Russia’s 2017 Naval Doctrine.

“Moscow continues to believe, and Russian generals in private conversations emphasize, that any conventional conflict with NATO risks rapid escalation without ‘de-escalation’ — into all-destroying nuclear war. It must therefore be avoided at all costs,” she wrote in February.

“If anything, U.S. emphasis on new lower-yield capabilities — effectively an ‘escalate to de-escalate’ strategy of the sort many attribute to Russia — would undermine the deterrent balance, potentially triggering the very sorts of crises low-yield proponents hope to avert.”

Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA, says the “escalate to de-escalate” debate obscures a more fundamental truth about Russian strategic doctrine. “Russia has never accepted the proposition that a war with the United States could be conventional only. Hence, Russian nuclear strategy has a firm place for scalable employment of nuclear weapons, for demonstration, escalation management, warfighting, and war termination if need be,” he told Defense One. “The gist of the problem is that the Pentagon believes that nuclear weapons are some kind of gimmick that can be deterred in conventional war, but actually the prospect for conventional-only war with Russia is somewhat limited from the outset.”

Bottom line: the U.S., Russia, and China, may be entering into a high-stakes discussion on nuclear arms with each suffering from severe misconceptions about the others’ intent. The price of failure of the new negotiation effort, if New START is not re-affirmed, would be a new period of heightened nuclear tensions and less predictability.

Rusten believes the arms race has already begun.

“We don’t want to be where that trajectory will take us five years from now,” she said.


May 18, 2019 Posted by | politics international, Russia, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

With belligerent John Bolton as National Security, Trump could take USA to the brink of war with Iran

With Bolton whispering in Trump’s ear, war with Iran is no longer unthinkable, Guardian, Owen Jones 16 May 19, Antiwar activists must do everything they can to prevent it, and that includes pressuring US allies

It was a deception that would lead to millions of civilian deaths, and the deaths of nearly 60,000 US soldiers. In August 1964 President Lyndon B Johnson solemnly declared that, after two apparent North Vietnamese attacks on US navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, military action would take place.

Four years later, Senator Albert Gore – father of Bill Clinton’s future vice-president – warned in a closed Foreign Relations Committee session that, “If this country has been misled … the consequences are very great.” His suspicions were correct. The second Gulf of Tonkin attack might never have happened – and perhaps neither did. Communications to make it look like the attack occurred had been falsified. But US policy was already set on a dramatic escalation of the Vietnam war: and here was the perfect pretext.

This week it emerged that the US government is discussing sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East for possible military action against Iran. “We’ll see what happens with Iran,” declared President Trump. “If they do anything, it will be a bad mistake.” The principal driving force behind this is Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, a man who thinks there is no problem to which the answer isn’t war: in the Bush era, his militarism was too much for the commander-in-chief who laid waste to Iraq. You can see them scrabbling for excuses already: the Trump administration says Iran-backed proxy groups are preparing attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria, a claim forcefully denied this week by British major-general Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander of counter-terror operations in both countries. The US has blamed Iran, without evidence, for damage to Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Could an Iranian Gulf of Tonkin be looming?

It is easy to dismiss these fears as alarmist. Is Trump not the man who confounded his critics by seeking peace on the Korean peninsula? Trump boasts that he “actually tempers” Bolton; Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, states: “There won’t be any war.” As Sanam Vakil, a research fellow at Chatham House, tells me: “Both sides are posturing, sending [threats] back and forth, and I don’t think heading for any direct military interventions.” Bolton, she reassures me, is just one of many voices in the room, and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo himself says that the US is not seeking war……..

A senior Senate aide tells me that the triumph of Bolton’s plans is all too conceivable: Bolton could exploit Trump’s ignorance of policy, an area in which he excels. While any war would not be popular with Trump’s base he could be convinced by Bolton that it is possible to escalate up to a point, then pull back at the brink: but by then it may be impossible to do so. Rightwing thinktanks and broadcasters are already hyping up links between Iran and al-Qaida.

The consequences of an Iranian conflagration should horrify us. Dan Plesch – a specialist at Soas University of London’s Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy – details the US air and naval power potentially ranged against Iran: it’s what one of his colleagues describes as “a tsunami of precision-guided molten metal”. The “lethality of US force”, says Plesch, “to very rapidly destroy military, civil, political and economic infrastructure is hugely underestimated” – and is far greater than in 2003. The US would seek to impose a government-in-exile with no roots in the country; a bloody balkanisation could follow. Iran would mobilise its regional influence – dramatically increased by the Iraq catastrophe – raising the prospect of wider regional conflict.

The risk is already too real for us to wait and see before acting. Pressure must be exerted by the public on US allies to declare their total opposition to any war with Iran, including not permitting their military bases to be used. The mass protests that will greet Trump’s visit in three weeks’ time must include demands that no British support for such a bloody adventure be offered. Feeling blasé about the danger? Well, consider this: all that stands between Bolton’s violent fantasy being executed is Donald Trump himself.

May 18, 2019 Posted by | politics, politics international, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

UK covering up the records on nuclear bomb testing in Australia and the Pacific. Why?

May 18, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, history, OCEANIA, politics international, secrets,lies and civil liberties, UK, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Iran officially ends some of its nuclear deal commitments, local media reports

CNBC, MAY 15 2019    Natasha Turak@NATASHATURAKA “program has been launched” to end some of Iran’s obligations to the 2015 nuclear deal on orders from the country’s Supreme National Security Council, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported……

May 16, 2019 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Distress in Pacific Island governments, over climate change, and Australia’s inaction on this

UN secretary-general meets Pacific leaders to discuss ‘global catastrophe’ of climate change ABC By foreign affairs reporter Stephen Dziedzic , 15 May 19

  • UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the Pacific is on the “front line of climate change”
  • Pacific leaders have voiced frustration over Australia’s failure to curb its emissions
  • Australian politicians say rapidly cutting emissions would be “ruinous” for Australia

Regional heavyweights had gathered at an historic climate change summit convened with the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres.

Mr Guterres is intent on building global momentum for sharper cuts to emissions, arguing that drastic action is necessary to stave off ecological disaster.

The Pacific is on the “front line of climate change”, Mr Guterres told the meeting.

“It has a unique moral authority to speak out. It’s time for the world to listen.”

Senior Australian officials at the meeting could do little else; sent in the place of Prime Minister Scott Morrison only days before the federal election, they were bound to observer status by the caretaker conventions.

As a result, Australia did not sign up to the final statement by Pacific leaders, which declared climate change a “global catastrophe” and called for “transformative action” to stop it……

while Pacific leaders have praised New Zealand’s announcement that it wants to go carbon neutral by 2050, many are frustrated that Australia has failed to curb its emissions.

One Pacific official told the ABC the meeting’s call for radical action on climate change “really was aimed at the whole globe” but “for those in the room [it] was a message for one country”.

“Of course no-one said Australia. No-one needed to say Australia,” the official said. “What other country in the room could we be referring to?”

The outspoken Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele, went much further, wading straight into Australia’s election campaign during the post-summit press conference…….

decision makers in Canberra also know that the Pacific is increasingly impatient about Australia’s long and painful debate on climate policy.

The argument will flare up again in only months when regional leaders gather for the Pacific Islands Forum on tiny Tuvalu, which has long been a vocal champion for drastic climate action.

And this time, Australia will not be sitting on the sidelines.

May 16, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, climate change, OCEANIA, politics international | Leave a comment

Nuclear lobby pushing for tax-payer funds, pretending that nuclear power is “clean”

May 16, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, politics international | Leave a comment

How to avoid nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan

WILL INDIA AND PAKISTAN BE ABLE TO STEP BACK FROM NUCLEAR DANGER? Arms Control Wonk, by Michael Krepon | May 13, 2019    Dark clouds are gathering. The Trump administration seems headed toward pre-emptive strikes against Iran. This progression began when Donald Trump walked away from the deal struck by President Obama, the European Union, Russia and China freezing advances in Iran’s nuclear weapon-related activities. Next, not unexpectedly, was Tehran’s threat to get back in the business of serious uranium enrichment in response to the U.S. walk out and Europe’s likely inability to circumvent Washington’s secondary sanctions. If Tehran follows through or if there is another prompt, the following step in this progression would be to set back Iran’s nuclear program several years by bombing the hell out of it. Conciliators be damned: Cue to the mission accomplished banners and drop the confetti.

If India’s new government has the wisdom to try once more to move away from confrontation, there is no shortage of confidence-building and nuclear risk-reduction measures to pursue. Every Indian and Pakistani diplomat worth his or her salt can quickly identify a half-dozen worthwhile measures that would not diminish security while helping to place time and space before another clash. If enough time and space are added, there may not be another clash.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | India, Pakistan, politics international | Leave a comment

Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign: paving the way for war against Iran?

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Iran, politics international, USA | Leave a comment

European Union countries face deadline to save nuclear deal with Iran

May 14, 2019 Posted by | EUROPE, Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Donald Trump likes strutting on the global ‘nuclear summit’ stage, but is not interested in genuine arms control

Beyond the spectacle of summits, Trump isn’t truly dedicated to nuclear arms control

14 May 2019|Evan Karlik In the words of President Donald Trump, ‘nobody’s happy’ with the dimming prospects for further US–North Korea talks; last week Pyongyang renewed short-range missile tests and the US Justice Department impounded North Korea’s second-largest cargo vessel for sanctions violations. But this wasn’t the first instance of backsliding after negotiations broke down. In March, mere days after Kim Jong-un dined with Trump at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, satellite imagery suggested renewed activity at the Sohae satellite-launch and rocket-testing facility.
The Hanoi summit’s unsatisfying conclusion stemmed from dissimilar definitions of ‘complete denuclearisation’. US officials later clarified that North Korea’s ballistic missile capabilities and chemical and biological weapons programs must also be eliminated. More significantly, US National Security Advisor John Bolton rejected North Korea’s preference for a step-by-step, reciprocal approach to talks, in which negotiating carrots such as sanctions relief, economic development, a peace declaration, or diplomatic normalisation could keep pace with corresponding progress towards weapons dismantlement and a verification framework.

After three decades of intermittent negotiations with North Korea, direct engagement between heads of state was a fresh approach, for which Trump should be commended. But his administration’s indigestion when contemplating anything less than an all-encompassing, landmark accord should have been tempered with a seasoned helping of negotiating flexibility. And looking beyond Hanoi, it’s evident that Trump and his team are hardly committed to nuclear arms control writ large.

Only weeks after the US declared its intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which forbids both nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,000 kilometres, the Pentagon announced its plans to test a ground-mobile version of the sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile in August, followed by a 4,000-kilometre-range ballistic missile in November.

Russia and the US have each critiqued the other for treaty noncompliance. Washington has continued to cite the operating range of Russia’s 9M729 missile and Moscow’s failure to course-correct since 2014, whereas Moscow has countered that the US Aegis Ashore missile defence site in Romania could perhaps be repurposed to launch offensive cruise missiles instead of only defensive interceptors.

At a January meeting in Geneva, Russia purportedly offered an inspection of the 9M729 system in exchange for a demonstration that the Aegis launchers couldn’t be converted to accommodate offensive missiles. American diplomats rejected this proposal, and, with the US Defense Department wasting no time to prepare for tests of INF Treaty–violating weapons soon after the agreement becomes void on 2 August, the Trump administration appears all too willing to dispense with existing arms limitations.

US officials have also yet to communicate their stance on prolonging the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). In a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2017, Trump reportedly disparaged the treaty as a ‘bad deal’ after Putin mentioned possible extension beyond 2021. Top US Air Force generals have testified before Congress and spoken publicly in unequivocal support of New START, calling bilateral and verifiable arms-control treaties ‘essential’, ‘of huge value’, ‘unbelievably important’ and ‘good for us’.

Regrettably, Bolton was a strident critic of New START before his appointment to lead Trump’s National Security Council, and the US State Department’s top diplomat for arms control remains noncommittal, explaining that the administration’s consolidated position towards treaty extension is still meandering through bureaucratic interagency review. ‘It gives reason to suspect our American counterparts of setting ground’ to let the treaty expire quietly, said Russia’s deputy foreign minister. Without the INF Treaty and the binding, verifiable limits contained in New START, American and Russian nuclear weaponry could soon be unconstrained for the first time since 1972.

And signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have just concluded their final preparatory meeting in advance of the treaty’s review conference next year. Non-nuclear states have expressed irritation that the US and Russia have further created ‘doubt about their intention ever to fulfil their disarmament obligations’. Instead of faithfully pursuing another stepwise reduction in its numbers of launchers and warheads, the US proposed multilateral working groups to discuss specific disarmament challenges. Among the 122 countries that voted in July 2017 for a nuclear-weapons ban, this American initiative, called ‘Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament’, smells like much high-minded talk without any meaningful effort towards US arms reductions.

If Trump desires credibility, dialogue with Russia promises fertile ground. At the outset, his political opponents may deride such overtures as cosying up to Putin. But as highlightedby former admiral Mike Mullen, the top American military officer from 2007 to 2011, ‘even in the darkest days of the Cold War’ the US had regular interchanges with the Soviet Union, but ‘we don’t have them now—it’s not even close’.

And responsibly trimming American and Russian arsenals would make any future pressure on North Korea all the more compelling.

Commitment to arms-control talks could help Washington and Moscow further comprehend areas of shared concern, such as China’s economic clout in central Asia and its adventurism in the Arctic, short of a thaw in relations. If mutually beneficial agreements with Moscow stimulate Trump’s appetite for open-minded negotiations and incremental processes, and achieve appreciation and esteem from the international community, perhaps step-by-step progress with Kim would then become palatable.

Evan Karlik is a lieutenant commander in the US Navy. He spent his early childhood in Western Samoa and the Philippines, and was stationed in Hawaii from 2011 to 2014. He served last year as a Defense Fellow in the US House of Representatives.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | politics international, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Deep divisions between nations as preparations made for next year’s review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

May 13, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

North Korea is unlikely to ever give up all its nuclear weapons

North Korea won’t give up all its nuclear weapons, former Defense Secretary Gates says. Politico, By PATRICK TEMPLE-WEST, 05/12/2019  
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said North Korea is unlikely to ever give up all its nuclear weapons, and that President Donald Trump was right to walk away from deal with leader Kim Jong-un in February.In an interview with CBS that taped on May 10, Gates said North Koreans have come to see some modest nuclear capabilities as “essential to their national survival.”

“I believe that North Koreans will never completely denuclearize,” Gates said, adding that the Trump administration is “unrealistic in believing that they can get complete denuclearization.” …….

May 13, 2019 Posted by | North Korea, politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

International politics – a sad story of boys playing with nuclear toys – theme for May 19

World leaders are dimly becoming aware of the global Climate Crisis.  Unfortunately there are few world leaders for whom the penny has dropped – that a global crisis is not just a domestic matter –   that to tackle it is a matter for international co-operation..

There is another crisis, which seems to be below everybody’s radar, and invisible to world leaders,  especially disregarded by the leaders of nuclear nations.  This is the apocalyptic danger of nuclear war – started either by intention, or by accident.  The dangers of the nuclear industry in general are also global –   with the creeping toxicity of ionising radiation accumulating in the ecosphere.

The boys that run the world are pretty much oblivious of those twin global threats – like little schoolkids taunting each other –   they have no concept of working together to defuse the climate and nuclear dangers.  They show no sign of understanding the concept of international co-operation.

And don’t the nuclear industry and weapons companies love it this way!!!



May 11, 2019 Posted by | Christina's themes, politics international | 3 Comments

Increased tension as U.S. has seized a North Korean ship for sanctions violations

In Middle of Nuclear Standoff, U.S. Seizes North Korean Cargo Ship Illicitly Exporting Coal, Slate, By HANNON, 9 May 19

May 11, 2019 Posted by | incidents, North Korea, politics international, USA | Leave a comment

Global paralysis in weapons control agreements as a new arms race begins

Nuclear paralysis and nuclear risk, Japan Times, BY DAVID HOWELL, MAY 10, 2019, LONDON – We are dangerously close to a world without arms control agreements. That is what some of the most experienced U.S. defense and disarmament experts are now warning, and a recent detailed report from a U.K. House of Lords Committee fully shares their alarm. The implications for the increasing risk of nuclear weapons use, tactical or strategic, are direct, immense and horrific. The disarmament process, on which the previous generation put so much hope, has come to a halt and what is termed “policy paralysis” has set in.

Whether these warnings are going to attract the urgent attention, and the action, they deserve is an open question. Of course in the Pacific Rim region the nuclear threat seems obvious and omnipresent, with unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s ongoing missile-launching activity still looming over nearby states, notably Japan.

But in the West it is quite different. A thick layer of complacency surrounds Western opinion about arms control and nuclear risk, built up from assumptions that the basic architecture of global arms stability of the last 70 years still works and stays firm. Preoccupation with other issues, such as Brexit, immigration and global warming, blots out most media coverage of nuclear matters, even though one nuclear slipup could kill millions in minutes.

Comfort is drawn from the belief that the balance of mutual deterrence between nuclear powers still holds firm, that Russia and the United States — which possess 90 percent of the world’s stock of nuclear weapons — still have some sort of dialogue despite their antagonism (as in the Cold War), that the proliferation of nuclear weapons has been reasonably contained and will continue to be so, and that the full range of arms control and limitation treaties, agreed on 20 or 30 years ago, are still valid or can be renewed.

Unfortunately none of these conditions still hold true. It is just dawning on Western policymakers that the whole arms stability structure, far from maintain the balance of the decades since World War II, could soon become highly unstable.

First, there has been a vast deterioration in both Russian-U.S. and Russian-European relations……..

Second, the “game,” if that is not a misnomer, is no longer a binary affair between two superpowers but, with the ascendancy of China, between at least three …….

Third, while the global spread of nuclear weapons, much feared half a century ago, has up to now been limited, as far as is known, to four new countries — namely India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea……

Fourth, in August America is withdrawing from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 and requiring the progressive destruction of short- and medium-range missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads…….

Fifth, new cybertechnologies are now of such power that they can disrupt anti-missile warning systems, send fake alarms, attack command and control systems and provoke “accidents.”…….

Next year will come a major review of the 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which somehow holds the whole precarious pattern in place. The treaty accepts the legal right of the original five nuclear powers — the U.S., United Kingdom, Russia, China and France — to have nuclear weapons as long as they make progress to disarm and eventually get rid of them…….

a new arms race is beginning and the nuclear risk is increasing when the world has enough troubles already and can ill afford any more.

David Howell is a Conservative politician, journalist and economic consultant. He is chairman of the House of Lords International Relations.

May 11, 2019 Posted by | politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment