U.S. and UK attempt to smooth tensions as France calls submarine snub a ‘crisis’

PUBLISHED MON, SEP 20 20215:26 AM EDTUPDATED 4 HOURS AGOSilvia Amaro@SILVIA_AMAROSHAREShare Article via FacebookShare Article via TwitterShare Article via LinkedInShare Article via EmailKEY POINTS

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/20/us-and-uk-try-to-ease-tensions-with-france-over-submarine-deal-crisis.html

  • U.S. President Joe Biden requested a call with French President Emmanuel Macron.
  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is “very proud” of his country’s relationship with France.
  • France has not held back following news of the deal and went as far as recalling its ambassadors from the U.S. and Australia.
  • In the meantime, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his decision and denied that France was lied to.
U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (L) have a conversation ahead of the NATO summit at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels, on June 14, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (L) have a conversation ahead of the NATO summit at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels, on June 14, 2021.Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

LONDON — The United States and the United Kingdom are looking to ease tensions with France after a submarine deal with Australia that Paris described as a “stab in the back.”

U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday requested a call with French President Emmanuel Macron. A spokesperson for the French presidency said Monday that the call will happen in coming days and that Macron wishes to get some “clarifications.”

A day after Biden’s request, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is “very proud” of his country’s relationship with France and that “our love for France is ineradicable.”

The statements come after news last week that Australia was canceling a submarine deal with France and instead was buying new technology from the United States, in cooperation with the U.K.It’s not OK between us, it’s not OK at all. It means there is a crisis.Jean Yves Le DrianFRANCE’S FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER

The new arrangement will see Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines rather than conventional ones — in what some experts describe as an attempt by the United States to step up its position against China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing has heavily criticized the deal between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, known as AUKUS, calling it “extremely irresponsible.”

‘There was a lie … a major breach of trust’

France has not held back following news of the deal and went as far as recalling its ambassadors from the U.S. and Australia.

“There has been a lie, there has been duplicity, there has been a major breach of trust, there has been contempt. So it’s not OK between us, it’s not OK at all. It means there is a crisis,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French minister for foreign affairs, told Info France 2 on Saturday.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=Silvia_Amaro&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH0sInRmd192ZGxfY2hpcnBfMTI3OTQiOnsiYnVja2V0IjoidmRsX29ubHkiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjozfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1439290082356305926&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnbc.com%2F2021%2F09%2F20%2Fus-and-uk-try-to-ease-tensions-with-france-over-submarine-deal-crisis.html&sessionId=174f88737d57193caecd6258671c6a9c5ff92d21&siteScreenName=CNBC&theme=light&widgetsVersion=1890d59c%3A1627936082797&width=550px

“We recalled our ambassadors to try to understand and show these former partner countries our deep discontent. But also, once they are here we will have the occasion to reevaluate our position in order to defend to the best extent our interests both in Australia and United States,” the minister added.

Le Drian also said that, so far, there isn’t a date to send the two ambassadors back. France has also canceled a meeting scheduled for this week between Paris and London.

A spokesperson for the French presidency said Monday the original contract between Paris and Canberra includes “compensations,” but did not disclose any values. When Australia signed the deal with France in 2016, the cost of the submarines totaled $40 billion, according to Reuters.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, announced Monday that the 27 foreign ministers will discuss what Australia’s change of heart will mean for trade negotiations between the bloc and Canberra.

Europe’s diplomatic innocence

“By escalating the dispute, Macron hopes to bring a large chunk of French domestic opinion onto his side; Macron also hopes to force other EU countries to grasp that they now need to take sides, not perpetually equivocate on European defence and industrial strategy,” Mujtaba Rahman, director at the consultancy firm Eurasia, said in a note Saturday.WATCH NOWVIDEO00:54France recalls ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia

These topics are particularly important for Macron as France gears up for a presidential election in April. The country is also set to lead discussions at the EU level when it gets the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in January.

“I think that Europe is emerging from diplomatic innocence,” foreign affairs chief Le Drian said.

Josep Borrell, who heads the EU’s foreign affairs portfolio, had said in the wake of the announcement: “We must survive on our own, as others do.”

Australia does not regret its decision

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his decision and denied that France was lied to.

“Ultimately, this was a decision about whether the submarines that were being built, at great cost to the Australian taxpayer, were going to be able to do a job that we needed it to do when they went into service and our strategic judgment based on the best possible of intelligence and defence advice was that it would not,” Morrison said Sunday, according to the BBC.

Iran’s hardline new president sworn in amid stalled nuclear talks and hopes of Saudi detente

https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2021/08/05/middleeast/iran-president-raisi-inauguration-intl/index.html

By Frederik Pleitgen, Claudia Otto and Ramin Mostaghim, CNN
Updated 1:32 PM EDT, Thu August 05, 2021

Ebrahim Raisi at his swearing-in ceremony at the Iranian parliament in Tehran on August 5.

Tehran, Iran(CNN)Ebrahim Raisi was inaugurated as Iran’s next president on Thursday, signaling the start of a new harder-line era that could herald major shifts in the Islamic Republic’s policies at home and abroad.

After eight years of Hassan Rouhani’s moderate administration, Iran now turns to Raisi, an ultra-conservative judiciary chief whose views are fully in line with the thinking of the country’s powerful clergy and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the final say on all major matters of state.

Raisi’s inauguration comes at a pivotal time, with Iran currently in indirect negotiations with the United States over how to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement. Raisi will also face the task of reviving his country’s economy, which has been battered in recent years by the previous US administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions. Tensions in the region are also high following a string of maritime provocations blamed by the West on Tehran.https://e9bd3312607b2677a8658e6d91fede5c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0

“I swear to safeguard the official religion and the establishment of the Islamic Republic and constitution of the nation,” Raisi said in taking the oath at parliament on Thursday. During the ceremony, tributes were paid to Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian commander who died in a targeted killing ordered by former US President Donald Trump.

After his swearing in ceremony, Raisi called for US sanctions to be lifted, saying that his government will “support any diplomatic plan that will realize that objective.”

Raisi also said that the aim behind his country’s nuclear program is “peaceful,” and that Iran “rejects the use of nuclear power except for civilian purposes.”Raisi, right, takes his oath as president in Thursday's ceremony. Raisi, right, takes his oath as president in Thursday’s ceremony.

Among the attendees at Thursday’s ceremony were Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Iraqi President Barham Salih and the EU’s Deputy Secretary-General for Foreign Action Enrique Mora, according to state media. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya and Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general Naim Qasem were also in the audience, along with Kuwait’s top diplomat and Qatar’s minister of business and trade.

At another ceremony earlier this week, the Supreme Leader praised the incoming administration as Rouhani silently sat and looked on.

“In a transfer of power, new ideas and new resolve enter the field, and this is a source of hope for all those who are highly motivated to serve the country, in particular the youth,” Khamenei said in a speech Monday about the contentious June elections that brought Raisi to power. The polls were marked by historically low turnout and criticized as largely uncompetitive after an unelected panel of clerics and lawyers barred all the major reformist and centrist candidates from running, all but guaranteeing Raisi’s victory.

Raisi quickly made clear that he is on the same page as the Supreme Leader. The new president also has a strong majority in parliament, which will allow him to quickly push through legislation that could lead to major shifts in Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.Khamenei at an endorsement ceremony to give his official seal of approval to Raisi on August 3.

“You have unity inside the three branches of government, and this reduces infighting, reduces disagreement and that is going to be crucial for him and not having to worry about internal competition is going to be important for him,” says Fouad Izadi, an associate professor at Tehran University.

The most fundamental change could happen in Iran’s economic policy. While Rouhani was keen to open Iran up to foreign investment and attract companies from the West, Raisi subscribes to the notion of a “resistance economy,” a model Iranian hardliners have been propagating for years. It seeks to make Iran’s economy independent from outside forces, allowing it to better weather the impact of international sanctions while trying to foster home-grown industries.

While Rouhani and millions of Iranians had hoped the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement (known as the JCPOA) would lead to a bonanza of foreign investment, those hopes were dashed by the Trump administration’s exit from the deal and its unleashing of the “maximum pressure” campaign that hit Iran with tougher than ever sanctions that continue to cripple the economy to this day.

Dr. Seyyed Mostafa Koshcheshm, a political analyst in Tehran, says Rouhani’s belief in improving relations with the West, even after the Trump administration started its maximum pressure campaign, may have been his biggest mistake.

“Rouhani marginalized ties with other countries. His focal point was the JCPOA, the nuclear deal and removing sanctions. Many Iranians that voted for Raisi believe that Rouhani was compromising Iran’s foreign policy at the behest of comfortable solutions with the US and not having enough care for ties with other countries like China, Russia, Latin America and Africa,” he said.Iran’s hardline presidential frontrunner could take the country back to a dark past, just as Iranians are itching for change

Negotiations are ongoing on how to bring the US back into the nuclear deal and Iran back into full compliance, after Tehran responded to Trump’s sanctions by significantly ramping up both its stock and purity of enriched uranium in recent years. While both sides say they want to reach an agreement, negotiations have recently stalled.

Raisi, like the Supreme Leader and most hardliners, is no fan of the JCPOA. He said in a speech after receiving his presidential credentials that while he was keen to do away with sanctions, he would not return to the deal at all costs.

“We will definitely seek to eliminate and lift the tyrannical sanctions,” Raisi said, but “we will not make people’s livelihood conditional, we will not tie all things to foreigners. We will definitely pursue the matters that are immediate issues for us, that we are facing today.”

Despite Raisi’s plans for a more self-sufficient economy, lifting at least some of the sanctions against Iran will be key as the incoming administration faces a struggling economy, a high unemployment rate and a currency that has been in near freefall, leading to a major spike in consumer prices.

On top of this, Raisi must also come up with a solution to the country’s water shortages, especially in southwestern Iran, which have led to sometimes violent protests with several people killed.

Iran’s Supreme Leader has said he understands those protesting the water shortages and has called on the government to act. Raisi says he has received the message and wants to tackle the problem, which will require big investments in local infrastructure.

“These matters have been detected and I assure the people that the solutions have been delineated and we have benefited from the views of experts and scholars and this will be urgently dealt with,” Raisi said earlier this week.

In foreign policy, Iran’s hard line course could become even more pronounced. A major regional power with widespread influence in the greater Middle East, Iran’s foreign policy will be “active and dynamic,” Raisi promised.Trump dashed dreams of reform in Iran. The country’s new hardline president is living proof

The Rouhani administration, particularly its foreign minister Javad Zarif, had a somewhat strained relationship with Iran’s powerful military and the Revolutionary Guards’ influential Quds Force, which is responsible for foreign operations in countries like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. With the new president, no such rift exists.

Hossein Amir-Abdollhian, parliament’s foreign affairs adviser and possibly the next foreign minister, told CNN in a recent interview that Iran does not plan to curtail its foreign policy.

Iran will have “a foreign policy that is balanced with an eye towards all countries — with a logical and at the same time strong discourse, a discourse that will be able to secure Iranian rights on all fronts,” Amir-Abdollhian said.

That could lead to major standoffs with the United States. The Biden administration said it wants Iran to enter talks about its ballistic missile program and the country’s “behavior” in the Middle East. Tehran has shot down even the notion of any direct talks with Washington. When asked at his first news conference after his election whether he would ever speak with President Biden, Raisi simply said: “No!”

But while tensions between Iran and the US could further escalate, other conflicts might see at least some de-escalation. Iran has recently been involved in talks with its main regional rival, Saudi Arabia, in a bid to end a long standoff that has contributed to instability in large parts of the Middle East. Political analyst Mostafa Khoshcheshm says he believes détente with Riyadh is key to Iran’s political and economic agenda.

On Wednesday, Raisi said that Iran’s regional presence “creates security,” and that he will extend the hand of “friendship and brotherhood” to neighboring countries.

“Our power in the region creates security, our regional capabilities support stability and peace in various nations, and will only be used to fight hegemonic powers,” he said.

At his first press conference as president-elect, Raisi said he foresaw a reopening of Iranian and Saudi embassies in Riyadh and Tehran. Relations between the two countries have been frozen since 2016.

“Raisi’s ultimate goal is economy,” Khoshcheshm said. “One of the means to do that is foreign trade and when we speak of foreign trade that means de-escalation, that means detente with Saudi Arabia and that means dealing with other countries. That is why in his first press conference after he was elected, he sent a warm welcome to Saudi Arabia.”CNN’s Mostafa Salem contributed to this report from Abu Dhabi

Iran nuclear deal: President-elect Raisi issues warning over talks

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57552639

Published5 hours agoShareRelated Topics

Ebrahim Raisi speaks to reporters in Tehran, Iran (21 June 2021)
image captionEbrahim Raisi Iran’s ballistic missile programme and regional issues were not up for discussion

Iran’s president-elect has welcomed the negotiations with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal but said they must guarantee national interests.

At his first news conference since his victory in Friday’s election, Ebrahim Raisi promised he would not allow the talks in Vienna to be dragged out.

He also insisted that Iran’s ballistic missile programme was “not negotiable”.

The nuclear deal has been close to collapse since the US abandoned it and reinstated sanctions three years ago.

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Iran nuclear crisis: The basics

  • World powers don’t trust Iran: Some countries believe Iran wants nuclear power because it wants to build a nuclear bomb – it denies this.
  • So a deal was struck: In 2015, Iran and six other countries reached a major agreement. Iran would stop some nuclear work in return for an end to harsh penalties, or sanctions, hurting its economy.
  • What is the problem now? Iran re-started banned nuclear work after former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Even though new leader Joe Biden wants to rejoin, both sides say the other must make the first move.
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Mr Raisi, a hard-line Shia Muslim cleric who is head of Iran’s judiciary and is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, won Friday’s election by a landslide, with 62% of the vote in the first round.

However, turnout was just under 49% – a record low for a presidential poll in the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution – following calls for a boycott from dissidents and some reformists in response to the disqualification of several prominent candidates who might have provided serious competition.

Supporters of Ebrahim Raisi hold a photo of him at a rally in Tehran, Iran, following his presidential election victory (19 June 2021)
image captionMr Raisi is an ultraconservative cleric and a fierce critic of the West

On Monday, Mr Raisi described Iranians’ participation in the election as a message of “unity and cohesion”, and a sign that they continued to “walk the path” of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

He also said voters had given him a mandate to “fight against corruption, poverty, and discrimination”, which he had accused the moderate President Hassan Rouhani of failing to tackle during the campaign.

Mr Raisi said his approach to foreign policy would not be limited by the nuclear deal negotiated by Mr Rouhani, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

On the Vienna talks, he said: “We will not allow negotiations to be for negotiations’ sake. Negotiations should not be dragged out but each sitting should bear results. A result-oriented [negotiation] is important to us and it should have an outcome for the Iranian nation.”

Mr Raisi urged the US to immediately return to the deal and lift all the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. When asked if he would meet President Joe Biden if it did so, he replied: “No.”https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.43.2/iframe.htmlmedia captionIran election: Wariness and welcome for Ebrahim Raisi

He likewise dismissed the possibility of any negotiations over Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its regional policies, including its support of armed groups in several countries, despite calls by Western countries for them to be part of any new agreement reached in Vienna.

On Sunday, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said representatives in Vienna were “closer than ever to an agreement”, but that bridging the remaining gap was “not an easy job”.

Israel’s new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, meanwhile warned world powers “to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement”.

He said Mr Raisi, who was involved in the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988 when he was Tehran’s deputy prosecutor, was part of a “regime of brutal hangmen”.

When questioned about his human rights record on Monday, Mr Raisi said: “I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far.”

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Analysis

By Kasra Naji, BBC Persian

Ebrahim Raisi’s statements in his first news conference as president-elect are not going to reassure many people, whether about policies at home, or about Iran’s engagement with the outside world. He painted a picture of a hardliner who is set in his ways.

He is best known for his role in signing off on the execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners in 1988. He is sanctioned by the US for his role in human rights abuses. But he seemed unapologetic, saying he had helped bring security to the nation, and that he should be praised and thanked for what he had done. This issue will not doubt continue to overshadow his presidency.

As the head of the judiciary, he has presided over many cases of gross injustice, particularly relating to human rights activists like Nasrin Sotoudeh. There was nothing in his comments to suggest we will see an improvement in Iran’s human rights record. Mr Raisi said he had always endeavoured to fight for the human rights of the people.

On the indirect talks with the US in Vienna he was ambivalent, although he said they would continue if there were clear achievements. He was softer than expected on Israel, saying nothing except that Iran would continue to support the Palestinians. And he was enthusiastic about expanding relations with China. He said he would regard the implementation of a long-term co-operation agreement with China as a priority.

Mr Raisi projected no particular personal character that would mark the next four years in his image. Already, some observers are saying he will be the executive officer for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who they believe will be driving policies at home and abroad more than before.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57552639

What N Korean missile tests mean for US relations

https://apnews.com/article/what-north-korea-missiles-tests-mean-us-relations-e27c50a6b3c61a5e524e8f81c6825276

By HYUNG-JIN KIMtoday

1 of 4FILE – This Aug. 29, 2017, file photo provided by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the test launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — New U.S. president, same old North Korean playbook. Almost.

Two months after President Joe Biden took office, North Korea is again turning to weapons tests to wrest outside concessions. But the tests so far have been relatively small compared to past launches. That indicates Washington has a window of engagement before North Korea pursues bigger provocations.

This week, North Korea’s neighbors reported the country fired four short-range missiles into the sea in its first missile launches in about a year. The launches — two on Sunday, two on Thursday — came after the North said it had rebuffed dialogue offers by the Biden administration, citing what it called U.S. hostility.ADVERTISEMENT

Here’s look at North Korea’s recent missile launches and their motives.

WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT NORTH KOREA’S STRATEGY THIS TIME?

North Korea has a long history of performing major weapons tests around the time new governments take power in the United States and South Korea.

In February 2017, less than a month after Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, North Korea tested a mid-range missile that observers said showed an advance in weapon mobility. Later in 2017, four days after current South Korean President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated, North Korea fired what it called a newly developed, nuclear-capable intermediate-range missile.

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In 2009, North Korea conducted a long-range rocket launch and a nuclear test within the first four months of the first term of the Obama administration.

This week’s weapons tests largely appear to follow that playbook, but experts believe the country held back from a more serious a provocation because the Biden administration is still evaluating its North Korea policy.

The four missiles fired this week were all short-range and don’t pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland. According to South Korea’s assessment, the first two weapons launched Sunday were believed to be cruise missiles. But Japan said the two fired Thursday were ballistic missiles, more provocative weapons that North Korea is banned from testing by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“The basic pattern isn’t much different. But while North Korea in the past focused on showing off its maximum capability when a new government came in the United States, I feel the North is trying to control the level of (its provocation),” said Du Hyeogn Cha, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.MORE STORIES:

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WHAT DOES NORTH KOREA WANT?

What it has always wanted: for “the United States to lift sanctions while letting it maintain its nuclear capability,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

Because the Biden administration is unlikely do that anytime soon, some experts say North Korea may stage bigger provocations, like a long-range missile test or a nuclear detonation.

For now, it is ramping up its rhetoric along with the short-range missile launches.

In January, about 10 days before Biden took office, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced he would enlarge his nuclear arsenal and beef up the country’s fighting capability to cope with a hostile U.S. policy and military threats. He also pressed South Korea to suspend regular military drills with the United States if it wants better ties.

When U.S. and South Korean militaries pressed ahead with their springtime drills this month, Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned the U.S. to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington reached out to Pyongyang starting in mid-February, but Pyongyang hasn’t responded. Coupled with the overture, however, Blinken continued to slam North Korea’s human rights record and nuclear ambitions when he visited Seoul last week. North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said her country will keep ignoring such U.S. offers because of what she called American hostility.

The recent launches seem to be an example of North Korea “putting Kim Yo Jong’s threats into action as she said the United States can’t sleep in peace if it doesn’t accept its demands,” said Moon Seong Mook.Full Coverage: North Korea

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Experts say it’s highly unlikely for the Biden administration to back down and make concessions in the face of North Korea’s short-range missile launches. Biden, who has called Kim “a thug,” also isn’t likely to sit down for one-on-one talks with Kim unless he gets a pledge that North Korea will denuclearize — and officials confirm the country is sincere.

Amid the standoff, North Korea could end up launching bigger weapons tests, especially if it isn’t satisfied with the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review that is expected to be publicized soon, experts say.

“Biden won’t likely do a Trump-style ‘reality show summit’ with Kim. Kim’s agony in the next four years will be subsequently deepened and his nuclear gambling cannot help continuing,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at South Korea’s Korea University.

North Korea could turn to long-range missile and even nuclear tests, which Kim Jong Un suspended when he began engaging diplomatically with Washington. While Kim Jong Un has claimed to have achieved the ability to attack the U.S. homeland with nuclear missiles, outside experts said the North hasn’t mastered everything it would need to do that.

Such a major provocation would certainly prompt the United States and its allies to seek additional U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

But tougher sanctions may be difficult because of China, the North’s major diplomatic ally and economic lifeline, wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council. Given its current tensions with Washington, China may not easily agree to more sanctions even if North Korea engages in long-range missile or nuclear tests, analyst Cha said.

US Air Force is guarding against electromagnetic pulse attacks. Should we worry?

By Edd Gent – Live Science Contributor 8 hours ago

A billowing white mushroom cloud during Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb, at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

One way to create an EMP is to set off a nuclear bomb. Here, a billowing white mushroom cloud during Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb, at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (Image credit: CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

A U.S. Air Force base in Texas has taken the first steps to guard against an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. But what, exactly, is an EMP, and how big is the threat?

Officials at the Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland, Texas, issued a request for bids to carry out a survey of a facility called the Petroleum, Oil and Lubrication Complex. The survey will identify any equipment that could be vulnerable to an EMP ahead of more detailed vulnerability testing, according to the request. After that, officials would figure out ways to keep that equipment safe in the event of an EMP attack.

Related: The 22 weirdest military weapons

What is an EMP?

An EMP is a massive burst of electromagnetic energy that can occur naturally or be generated deliberately using nuclear weapons. While many experts don’t think EMPs pose a big threat, some people argue that these types of weapons could be used to cause widespread disruption to electricity-dependent societies.

“You can use a single weapon to collapse the entire North American power grid,” said defense analyst Peter Pry, who served on the Congressional EMP Commission, which was set up to assess the threat of EMP attacks but shut down in 2017.

“Once the electric grid goes down, everything would collapse,” Pry told Live Science. “Everything depends on electricity: telecommunications, transportation, even water.”

According to the request, the testing at Lackland comes in response to a 2019 executive order issued by then-President Donald Trump for the federal government to strengthen its infrastructure against EMPs. Pry, who has consulted on the project, said the survey and resulting upgrades are part of a broader initiative by the U.S. Air Force to beef up its defenses against this type of threat.CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.446.1_en.html#goog_1366613187about:blankabout:blankVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

Why EMPs are so dangerous

An EMP releases huge waves of electromagnetic energy, which can act like a giant moving magnet. Such a changing magnetic field can cause electrons in a nearby wire to move, thereby inducing a current. With such a huge burst of energy, an EMP can cause damaging power surges in any electronics within range.

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These pulses can occur deliberately or naturally. Natural EMPs occur when the sun occasionally spits out massive streams of plasma, and if they come our way, Earth’s natural magnetic field can deflect them. But when the sun spits out enough plasma at once, the impact can cause the magnetic field to wobble and generate a powerful EMP. The last time this happened was in 1859 in the so-called Carrington Event, and while electronics were still rare then, it knocked out much of the recently built telegraph network.

Then, there’s the possibility of deliberate EMPs. If a nuclear weapon were to be detonated high in the atmosphere, Pry said, the gamma radiation it would release could strip electrons from air molecules and accelerate them at close to the speed of light. These charge-carrying electrons would be corralled by Earth’s magnetic field, and as they zipped around, they would generate a powerful, fluctuating electric current, which, in turn, would generate a massive EMP. The explosion could also distort Earth’s magnetic field, causing a slower pulse similar to a naturally occuring EMP. 

Setting off a nuclear weapon about 200 miles (300 kilometers) above the U.S. could create an EMP that would cover most of North America, Pry said. The explosion and radiation from the bomb would dissipate before reaching ground level, but the resulting EMP would be powerful enough to destroy electronics across the region, Pry said. “If you were standing on the ground directly beneath the detonation, you wouldn’t even hear it go off,” Pry said. “The EMP would pass harmlessly through your body.”

A small EMP with a radius of under a kilometer can also be generated by combining high-voltage power sources with antennas that release this energy as electromagnetic waves. The U.S. military has a prototype cruise missile carrying an EMP generator. Called the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), it can be used to target specific enemy facilities, and Pry said it would be within the capabilities of many militaries, or even terrorist groups, to build an EMP generator.

“We’ve arrived at a place where a single individual can topple the technological pillars of civilization for a major metropolitan area all by himself armed with some device like this,” he said.

The technology required to protect against EMPs is similar to what is already used to prevent damage from power surges caused by lightning, Pry said. These technologies would have to be adapted to deal with higher voltages, but devices such as surge protectors, which divert excess voltage into the Earth, or Faraday cages, which shield devices from electromagnetic radiation, could do the job.

Pry said the EMP Commission estimated it would cost $2 billion to $4 billion to protect the most important pieces of equipment in the national grid, but ideally, he would like to see standards changed so that EMP protection is built into devices.

EMP: Should you worry?

The threat posed by EMPs is far from settled, though. A 2019 report by the Electric Power Research Institute, which is funded by utility companies, found that such an attack would probably cause regional blackouts but not a nationwide grid failure and that recovery times would be similar to those of other large-scale outages.AdvertisementRELATED CONTENT

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Frank Cilluffo, director of Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, said that, while an EMP attack would certainly be devastating, it’s unlikely that the United States’ enemies would carry out such a brazen assault.

“There are other ways that adversaries can achieve some of the same outcomes, some of which would be cheaper and some of which would be less discernible,” Cilluffo told Live Science.

Such alternatives might include cyberattacks to take out critical infrastructure, including the electric grid, or even efforts to disrupt space-based communications or the GPS system that modern society is so reliant on. Work to protect against EMPs makes sense, particularly given the possibility of another Carrington-like event, but these upgrades shouldn’t distract from efforts to shore up defenses against more probable lines of attack, Cilluffo said.

Original article on Live Science.

We Are Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Have Ever Been

Whether you’re reading this with your morning coffee, just after lunch, or on the late shift in the wee small hours of the morning, it’s 100 seconds to midnight. That’s just over a minute and a half. And that should be completely unnerving. It’s the closest to that witching hour we’ve ever been.

Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has adjusted its Doomsday Clock to provide humanity with an expert estimate of just how close all of us are to an apocalyptic “midnight” — that is, nuclear annihilation. A century ago, there was, of course, no need for such a measure. Back then, the largest explosion ever caused by humans had likely occurred in Halifax, Canada, in 1917, when a munitions ship collided with another vessel, in that city’s harbor. That tragic blast killed nearly 2,000, wounded another 9,000, and left 6,000 homeless, but it didn’t imperil the planet. The largest explosions after that occurred on July 16, 1945, in a test of a new type of weapon, an atomic bomb, in New Mexico and then on August 6, 1945, when the United States unleashed such a bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Since then, our species has been precariously perched at the edge of auto-extermination.

No one knows precisely how many people were killed by the world’s first nuclear attack. Around 70,000, nearly all of them civilians, were vaporized, crushed, burned, or irradiated to death almost immediately. Another 50,000 probably died soon after. As many as 280,000 were dead, many of radiation sickness, by the end of the year. (An atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki, three days later, is thought to have killed as many as 70,000.) In the wake of the first nuclear attack, little was clear. “What happened at Hiroshima is not yet known,” the New York Times reported that August 7th and the U.S. government sought to keep it that way, portraying nuclear weapons as nothing more than super-charged conventional munitions, while downplaying the horrifying effects of radiation. Despite the heroic efforts of several reporters just after the blast, it wasn’t until a year later that Americans — and then the rest of the world — began to truly grasp the effects of such new weaponry and what it would mean for humanity from that moment onward.

Only the Essentials

When I pack up my bags for a war zone, I carry what I consider to be the essentials for someone reporting on an armed conflict. A water bottle with a built-in filter. Trauma packs with a blood-clotting agent. A first-aid kit. A multitool. A satellite phone. Sometimes I forgo one or more of these items, but there’s always been a single, solitary staple, a necessity whose appearance has changed over the years, but whose presence in my rucksack has not.

Once, this item was intact, almost pristine. But after the better part of a decade covering conflicts in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of CongoLibya, and Burkina Faso, it’s a complete wreck. Still, I carry it. In part, it’s become (and I’m only slightly embarrassed to say it) something of a talisman for me. But mostly, it’s because what’s between the figurative covers of that now-coverless, thoroughly mutilated copy of John Hersey’s Hiroshima — the New Yorker article in paperback form — is as terrifyingly brilliant as the day I bought it at the Strand bookstore in New York City for 48 cents.

I know Hiroshima well. I’ve read it cover-to-cover dozens of times. Or sometimes on a plane or a helicopter or a river barge, in a hotel room or sitting by the side of a road, I’ll flip it open and take in a random 10 or 20 pages. I always marveled at how skillfully Hersey constructed the narrative with overlapping personal accounts that make the horrific handiwork of that weapon with the power of the gods accessible on a human level; how he explained something new to this world, atomic terror, in terms that readers could immediately grasp; how he translated destruction on a previously unimaginable scale into a cautionary tale as old as the genre itself, but with an urgency that hasn’t faded or been matched. I simply never knew how he did it until Lesley Blume pulled back the curtain.

Fallout, which was published last month — the 75th anniversary of America’s attack on Hiroshima — offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of just how Hersey and William Shawn, then the managing editor of the New Yorker, were able to truly break the story of an attack that had been covered on the front pages of the world’s leading newspapers a year earlier and, in the process, produced one of the all-time great pieces of journalism. It’s an important reminder that the biggest stories may be hiding in plain sight; that breaking news coverage is essential but may not convey the full magnitude of an event; and that a writer may be far better served by laying out a detailed, chronological account in spartan prose, even when the story is so horrific it seems to demand a polemic.

Hersey begins Hiroshima in an understated fashion, noting exactly what each of the six survivors he chronicles was doing at the moment their lives changed forever. “Not everyone could comprehend how the atomic bomb worked or visualize an all-out, end-of-days nuclear world war,” Blume observes. “But practically anyone could comprehend a story about a handful of regular people — mothers, fathers, grade school children, doctors, clerks — going about their daily routines when catastrophe struck.”

As she points out, Hersey’s authorial voice is never raised and so the atomic horrors — victims whose eyeballs had melted and run down their cheeks, others whose skin hung from their bodies or slipped off their hands like gloves — speak for themselves. It’s a feat made all the more astonishing when one considers, as Blume reveals, that its author, who had witnessed combat and widespread devastation from conventional bombing during World War II, was so terrified and tormented by what he saw in Hiroshima months after the attack that he feared he would be unable to complete his assignment.

Incredibly, Hersey got the story of Hiroshima with official sanction, reporting under the scrutiny of the office of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, the head of the American occupation of defeated Japan. His prior reportage on the U.S. military, including a book focused on MacArthur that he later called “too adulatory,” helped secure his access. More amazing still, the New Yorker — fearing possible repercussions under the recently passed Atomic Energy Act — submitted a final draft of the article for review to Lieutenant General Lesley Groves, who had overseen the Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb, served as its chief booster, and went so far as to claim that radiation poisoning “is a very pleasant way to die.”

Whatever concessions the New Yorker may have made to him have been lost in the sands of time, but Groves did sign off on the article, overlooking, as Blume notes, “Hersey’s most unsettling revelations: the fact that the United States had unleashed destruction and suffering upon a largely civilian population on a scale unprecedented in human history and then tried to cover up the human cost of its new weapon.”

The impact on the U.S. government would be swift. The article was a sensation and immediately lauded as the best reporting to come out of World War II. It quickly became one of the most reprinted news pieces of all time and led to widespread reappraisals by newspapers and readers alike of just what America had done to Japanese civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It also managed to shine a remarkably bright light on the perils of nuclear weapons, writ large. “Hersey’s story,” as Blume astutely notes, “was the first truly effective, internationally heeded warning about the existential threat that nuclear arms posed to civilization.”

Wanted: A Hersey for Our Time

It’s been 74 years since Hiroshima hit the newsstands. A Cold War and nuclear arms race followed as those weapons spread across the planet. And this January, as a devastating pandemic was beginning to follow suit, all of us found ourselves just 100 seconds away from total annihilation due to the plethora of nuclear weapons on this earth, failures of U.S.-Russian cooperation on arms control and disarmament, the Trump administration’s trashing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and America’s efforts to develop and deploy yet more advanced nukes, as well as two other factors that have sped up that apocalyptic Doomsday Clock: climate change and cyber-based disinformation.

The latter, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is corrupting our “information ecosphere,” undermining democracy as well as trust among nations, and so creating hair-trigger conditions in international relations. The former is transforming the planet’s actual ecosystem and placing humanity in another kind of ultimate peril. “Dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder,” former California Governor Jerry Brown, the executive chair of the Bulletinsaid earlier this year. “Climate change just compounds the crisis. If there’s ever a time to wake up, it’s now.”

Over the last three-plus years, however, President Donald Trump has seemingly threatened at least three nations with nuclear annihilation, including a U.S. ally. In addition to menacing North Korea with the possibility of unleashing “fire and fury” and his talk of ushering in “the end” of Iran, he even claimed to have “plans” to exterminate most of the population of Afghanistan. The “method of war” he suggested employing could kill an estimated 20 million or more Afghans, almost all of them civilians. John Hersey, who died in 1993 at the age of 78, wouldn’t have had a moment’s doubt about what he meant.

Trump’s nuclear threats may never come to fruition, but his administration, while putting significant effort into deep-sixing nuclear pacts, has also more than done its part to accelerate climate change, thinning rules designed to keep the planet as habitable as possible for humans. A recent New York Times analysis, for example, tallied almost 70 environmental rules and regulations — governing planet-warming carbon dioxide and methane emissions, clean air, water, and toxic chemicals — that have been rescinded, reversed, or revoked, with more than 30 additional rollbacks still in progress.

President Trump has not, however, been a total outlier when it comes to promoting environmental degradation. American presidents have been presiding over the destruction of the natural environment since the founding of the republic. Signed into law in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln, the Homestead Act, for instance, transformed countless American lives, providing free land for the masses. But it also transferred 270 million acres of wilderness, or 10% of the United States, into private hands for “improvements.”

More recently, Ronald Reagan launched attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency through deregulation and budget cuts, while George W. Bush’s administration worked to undermine science-based policies, specifically through the denial of anthropogenic climate change. The difference, of course, was that Lincoln couldn’t have conceptualized the effects of global warming (even if the first study of the “greenhouse effect” was published during his lifetime), whereas the science was already clear enough in the Reagan and Bush years, and brutally self-apparent in the age of Trump, as each of them pursued policies that would push us precious seconds closer to Armageddon.

The tale of how John Hersey got his story is a great triumph of Lesley Blume’s Fallout, but what came after may be an even more compelling facet of the book. Hersey gave the United States an image problem — and far worse. “The transition from global savior to genocidal superpower was an unwelcome reversal,” she observes. Worse yet for the U.S. government, the article left many Americans reevaluating their country and themselves. It’s beyond rare for a journalist to prompt true soul-searching or provide a moral mirror for a nation. In an interview in his later years, Hersey, who generally avoided publicity, suggested that the testimony of survivors of the atomic blasts — like those he spotlighted — had helped to prevent nuclear war.

“We know what an atomic apocalypse would look like because John Hersey showed us,” writes Blume. Unfortunately, while there have been many noteworthy, powerful works on climate change, we’re still waiting for the one that packs the punch of “Hiroshima.” And so, humanity awaits that once-in-a-century article, as nuclear weapons, climate change, and cyber-based disinformation keep us just 100 clicks short of doomsday.

Hersey provided a template. Blume has lifted the veil on how he did it. Now someone needs to step up and write the world-changing piece of reportage that will shock our consciences and provide a little more breathing room between this vanishing moment and our ever-looming midnight.

South Korea Is Packing Submarines With Rockets For Taking Out North Korea’s Nukes

South Korea’s got some weird submarines. And they’re about to get weirder … and more powerful.

As part of a sweeping, five-year defense plan costing $250 billion, Seoul plans to develop a new class of attack submarine carrying non-nuclear ballistic missiles.

Conventional ballistic missiles are a rarity on submarines. For land-attack missions, most navies arm their undersea boats with cruise missiles, as cruise missiles are more accurate—albeit slower and less powerful—than ballistic missiles are.

But Seoul has some, ahem, unique defense needs owing to the presence on its border of a heavily-armed and belligerent nuclear state. South Korea’s submarines and their hard-hitting ballistic missiles give the country some ability to prevent a North Korean attack.

Nuclear powers, a disputed border and an uneasy truce: Explaining the India-China conflict

A border clash between the two nuclear armed neighbors has drawn the world’s gaze to a disputed region in the Himalayas.
Image: Galwan Valley

Galwan Valley, which lies between China’s Tibet and India’s Ladakh regions on Tuesday. 2020 Planet Labs, Inc. / AFP – Getty Images

By Saphora Smith

High up in the Himalayas, Indian and Chinese armed forces warily eye each other across a disputed border region that has become the scene of a tense standoff between the two nuclear powers.

The conflict in the remote Galwan Valley that spans their shared border sparked into life Monday with the killing of 20 Indian soldiers, the first reported deaths in 45 years. China has not disclosed whether its forces suffered any casualties, according to a report in its state-run newspaper, the Global Times.

The deaths have drawn the world’s gaze to a region that the two most populous countries have been contesting for decades. The implications go far beyond the lonely snowcapped mountains of this geopolitically complex region.

Image: Burning posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping
Siliguri Youth Congress activists burn posters and effigy of Chinese President Xi Jinping during an anti-China protest in Siliguri, India on Wednesday. Diptendu Dutta / AFP – Getty Images

Chinese and Indian forces clashed along the 2,100-mile-long Line of Actual Control, a demarcation line established after a war between the two nations in 1962 that resulted in an uneasy truce.

No shots are reported to have been fired since 1975, according to the Indian press, but troops occasionally engage in hand-to-hand scuffles and throwing rocks.

So what happened this week?

The details of exactly what happened Monday remain in short supply.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a phone call with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on Wednesday that Indian troops had crossed the line of control to “deliberately provoke and even violently attack” Chinese officers and soldiers, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Meanwhile, on the same call Jaishankar accused China of seeking to erect “a structure” in the Galwan Valley on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border.

“The Chinese side took premeditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. “It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo.”

Why is this happening now?

Thousands of troops have been camped either side of the Galwan Valley, in the mountainous region of Ladakh, for weeks.

The tense standoff started in early May, when Indian officials said Chinese soldiers crossed the boundary in Ladakh at three different points, erecting tents and guard posts and ignoring verbal warnings to leave, according to The Associated Press. That triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing and even fistfights between the two sides, much of it replayed on television news channels and social media, the news agency reported.

What are the possible motivations behind the clashes?

Under India’s Hindu-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, the country wants to be seen as strong, according to Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank in London.

“The one country that doesn’t respect India to the degree India would like is China,” he said. “India wants to be seen as an equal to China and talks about a multipolar Asia, but then it sees China as wanting dominance in Asia.”

However, Price said he thought it was unlikely that India would want to provoke China potentially to war particularly in the midst of a pandemic.

“It also knows China is bigger,” he said.

China on the other hand may have possible reasons to provoke a confrontation with India, Price said, although he cautioned that an overriding motivation there also remained unclear.

Among the reasons raised by analysts include China’s objection to India’s construction of a road through the Galwan Valley connecting the region to an airstrip, New Delhi’s increasing close alliance with Washington, and Beijing’s support for Pakistan in its dispute with India over the Kashmir region.

Image: An Indian army convoy
An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar-Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, north-east of Srinagar, India, on Wednesday. Mukhtar Khan / AP

Others also pointed to China’s increasing assertiveness in the region as a potential broader explanation.

Walter Ladwig III, a senior lecturer in international relations at King’s College London, pointed to its more forceful conduct in the South China Sea and Hong Kong in recent months.

“There definitely is a clear sense that China is much more forceful at the moment than it has been in the past,” he said.

“They’re throwing their weight around a lot more in all theaters, both domestically and in terms of their foreign relations,” said Nick Reynolds, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

How dangerous is the clash?

India has said both sides had agreed not to “escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquility.”

Modi echoed this but also underlined that India would give a “befitting reply” to any provocation. “India will firmly protect every inch of the country’s land and its self-respect,” he said.

The Chinese foreign ministry also said both sides agreed after Monday’s clash to “cool the current situation” as soon as possible and “safeguard peace and tranquility in the border areas.”

The stakes are high. In the past year, China has increased its nuclear arsenal from 290 to 320 warheads, and India from 130-140 to 150 warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI.

Experts say the broader dispute itself is not going away any time soon and Price points out that an agreement between New Delhi and Beijing after clashes in 2017 did nothing to stop this week’s deaths.

“No troops have died on this border since 1975, so this is kind of new territory,” he said.

Both Price and Reynolds said it would be difficult for either government to be seen to back down, considering their domestic politics. But Reynolds said international pressure may help and Price said there may be a way for both countries to claim victory but at the same time mutually back away.

“The elevation and terrain of this area means it’s highly unlikely this could escalate large scale,” Ladwig said. “But there’s plenty of opportunity for small-scale mistakes, skirmishes, accidents.”

Here Are The Top 10 International Threats According To Americans

By Victoria Simpson on June 19 2020 in World Facts

Image credit: Ra2 studio/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: Ra2 studio/Shutterstock.com
  • Americans fear the spread of infectious disease the most, followed by terrorism and the threat of nuclear weapons, as reported in a survey conducted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In addition to international terrorism, domestic terror is also considered a threat to Americans.
  • Experts are warning that more pandemics may come our way if we are not careful.

Today’s world is full of good people, and it is also home to many conflicts and problems. Some international threats that affect many people include terrorism such as that presented by groups like ISIS, and the threat coming from nature of global warming. In order to gain some insight into what Americans are fearing when they lie in bed awake at night, Pew Research Center conducted a survey in the spring of 2020 by asking 1,000 US adults a series of questions over the phone. This survey took place from March 3-29, 2020, and as such, occurred during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. This time saw tens of millions of American workers lose their jobs due to temporary or permanent layoffs in the face of the virus.  Stock prices plummeted, and the value of oil hit rock bottom as countries across the globe came to a stand still.

In light of this, it comes as little surprise that the top international threat people in the US listed at this time was the spread of infectious disease. Following this, people said they feared the threat of terrorism, and the spread of nuclear weapons. The remaining factors in the list of top ten international threats according to Americans in descending percentage order included cyberattacks from other countries, global climate change, the condition of the global economy, large numbers of people migrating, and long-standing conflicts between countries or ethnic groups.

What do these threats consist of, and what is the world doing about them?

Infectious Disease

Image credit: Nikolai  Moiseenko/Shutterstock.com

The novel coronavirus has made a deep impression in the minds of Americans. In the survey, 79% said it presented a major international threat, 19% saw it as a minor threat, and just 2% said it was not a threat at all. In essence, about 98% of the adults surveyed in the country found that infectious disease is at least a minor international threat to humans.

The novel coronavirus is just one in a slew of infectious diseases that have targeted humanity in the last century. The avian (bird) flu has caused several outbreaks around the world in the last century. H5N1, one type of bird flu, appeared in a goose in China in 1996, and spread to people a year later. SARS, also known as “severed acute respiratory syndrome” was first reported in Asia in the winter of 2003, and subsequently spread to about two dozen countries, infecting thousands and killing hundreds.

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) began infecting people in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread globally. This disease has a very high death rate, reportedly killing between 30 and 40% of those it infects. Ebola is another deadly infectious disease that has gripped humanity in recent times. This illness struck people living in West Africa between 2014 and 2016, but it has actually been with us for longer than that, dating back to 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the most current outbreak in Africa, 28,600 people are thought to have caught the virus and 11,325 died.

Experts are now warning that these outbreaks could be marking the beginning of a time when deadly viral outbreaks will become more common worldwide. Some experts believe the outbreaks are happening more often because humans are encroaching more and more on wild animal habitats.

Terrorism

Image credit: Prazis Images/Shutterstock.com

Terrorism comes in second as a perceived international threat among people living in the US. The survey done by Pew Research Center found that 73% of those surveyed felt terrorism is a major internation threat, and 25% felt it is a minor threat. Just 2% felt that terrorism was not a threat internationally.

Terrorism throughout the world has been in the media headlines frequently.  Globally, it has its roots in recent historic times in the 1980s, according to the FBI. According to the Bureau’s website, prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City, the 1983 truck bombings of U.S. and French military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 295 people constituted the most deadly terrorist attacks.

Some say the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center towers marked the beginning of international terrorists targeting people indiscriminately. Over 3,000 people who died in this attack were civilians.

Domestic terror is also a concern in the US. The FBI states that between 1980 and 2000, 335 incidents or suspected incidents of domestic terrorism happened in the US, and many more have taken place in the last 20 years.

The Spread of Nuclear Weapons

Image credit: Mwreck/Shutterstock.com
The third largest worry when it comes to international threats among Americans is the spread of nuclear weapons. As with international terrorism, 73%  of those surveyed said they felt it was a major threat.

Nuclear weapons were first tested in 1945, for use during the Second World War. On August 6, 1945, the US famously dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, in a violent attack that killed and gravely wounded about 130,000 people. The US also bombed Nagasaki following this, and killed about 74,000 people. This devastation led to the end of WWII but also to the beginning of a new era of violent threat.

Nuclear threats exist today. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has now abandoned a deal to end testing nuclear weapons and missiles within its borders and has started doing this again. The country of Iran has also dropped its commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal, and has started running its nuclear program anew. India and Pakistan both have their hands on nuclear weapons as well, and the two countries do not always get along, causing international worries that one could someday strike the other.

The explosion of a nuclear weapon releases deadly radiation that can have a devastating effect on humans. It can set fire to buildings for miles, and cause something called nuclear fallout, which spreads radiation for days after a bomb has exploded. This makes nuclear weapons something to be feared.

How These Threats are Being Addressed

Each of the international threats listed above presents a valid global concern. When it comes to disease, experts are currently working towards developing a vaccine to treat the novel coronavirus, and there is a group of scientists who are working to predict which infectious diseases might come to us next, from the animal kingdom. It is their hope to discover these illnesses and to develop treatments for them before another pandemic hits.

When it comes to terrorism, international organizations such as NATO and governments worldwide are attempting to combat the violence. Counter-terrorism policies are focused on reducing global terrorism, and armies are often sent abroad to fight terrorism in countries in which it has a strong hold such as in Iraq, Syria, Nigera, and Pakistan. It is an ongoing fight.

As for nuclear weapons, organizations such as the United Nations are working towards disarmament through the development of bilateral and plurilateral treaties and arrangements with governments. These projects seek to eliminate or reduce certain nuclear weapons in the world, to ensure peace for all. Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons in the world and can wipe out entire cities with just one explosion.

By working together and increasing trust among nations, it is possible that the world could reduce the major concerns of many people, in order to make the Earth a safer place to live.

Here Are The Top 10 International Threats According To Americans

Rank Threat % who say it is a major threat
1 Spread of infectious disease 79
2 Terrorism 73
3 The spread of nuclear weapons 73
4 Cyberattacks from other countries 72
5 China’s power and influence 62
6 Global climate change 60
7 Russia’s power and influence 56
8 The condition of the global economy 55
9 Global poverty 49
10 Large numbers of people moving from one country to another 42

Risk of Nuclear War Rises as US Deploys New Nuke for First Time Since Cold War

The Federation of American Scientists revealed in late January that the U.S. Navy had deployed for the first time a submarine armed with a low-yield Trident nuclear warhead. The USS Tennessee deployed from Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia in late 2019. The W76-2 warhead, which is facing criticism at home and abroad, is estimated to have about a third of the explosive power of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) called the news “an alarming development that heightens the risk of nuclear war.” We’re joined by William Arkin, longtime reporter focused on military and nuclear policy, author of numerous books, including “Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.” He broke the story about the deployment of the new low-yield nuclear weapon in an article he co-wrote for Federation of American Scientists. He also recently wrote a cover piece for Newsweek titled “With a New Weapon in Donald Trump’s Hands, the Iran Crisis Risks Going Nuclear.” “What surprised me in my reporting … was a story that was just as important, if not more important, than what was going on in the political world,” Arkin says.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: As the nation focused on President Trump’s impeachment trial, a major story recently broke about a new development in U.S. nuclear weapons policy that received little attention. The Federation of American Scientists revealed in late January the U.S. Navy had for the first time deployed a submarine armed with a low-yield Trident nuclear warhead. The USS Tennessee deployed from Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia in late 2019, armed with a warhead which is estimated to have about a third of the explosive power of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima.

The deployment is facing criticism at home and abroad. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, called the news “an alarming development that heightens the risk of nuclear war.” On Capitol Hill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said, quote, “This destabilizing deployment further increases the potential for miscalculation during a crisis.” Smith also criticized the Pentagon for its inability and unwillingness to answer congressional questions about the weapon over the past few months. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded by saying, quote, “This reflects the fact that the United States is actually lowering the nuclear threshold and that they are conceding the possibility of them waging a limited nuclear war and winning this war. This is extremely alarming,” he said.

We’re joined now William Arkin, longtime reporter who focuses on military and nuclear policy. He broke the story about the deployment of the new low-yield nuclear weapon in an article he co-wrote for the Federation of American Scientists. He also wrote the cover story for Newsweek, which is headlined “With a New Weapon in Donald Trump’s Hands, the Iran Crisis Risks Going Nuclear.” He’s the author of many books, including Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.

Bill Arkin, it’s great to have you back.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Thanks for having me on, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, to say the least, this has been an explosive week of news in Washington, D.C., and your news, which has hardly gone reported, is — should really be one of the top news stories of these last weeks.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, during the very time when the Iran crisis was at its highest, the United States, last December, deployed a new nuclear weapon, the first new nuclear weapon to be deployed, Amy, since the end of the Cold War. So here we have not just a momentous occasion, but a weapon which is intended explicitly to be more usable — and not just more usable against Russia and China, but to be more usable against Iran and North Korea, as well. It seemed to me that looking more deeply at this weapon, looking more deeply at the doctrines behind it, and then, really, what surprised me in my reporting, looking more at Donald Trump and the role that he might play in the future, was a story that was just as important, if not more important, than what was going on in the political world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what this — what does it mean, “low-yield” nuclear weapon?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, “low-yield” is actually a little bit wrong. The United States actually possesses nuclear weapons with even smaller yields than five to six kilotons, which is what this is estimated at. That’s 5,000 to 6,000 tons. And so, that would be — if you thought of it in Manhattan terms, it would be probably something on the order of 20 square city blocks obliterated and radiation coming from that area. So, to say “low-yield” is, of course, a little bit wrong. But it is the lowest-yield missile warhead available to the strategic nuclear forces.

And the real reason behind deploying a Trident warhead with this low-yield weapon was that the United States, the nuclear planners, felt that they didn’t have a prompt and assured capability to threaten Russia or threaten other adversaries — “prompt” meaning that it would be quickly delivered, 30 minutes, or even, if a submarine is close, as low as 15 minutes, and “assured” meaning that it isn’t a bomber or an airplane that has to penetrate enemy air defenses in order to get to the target. So, those two things, prompt and assured, is what they really wanted. And putting a warhead on the missiles on the submarines allowed them both covert deployments as well as getting close to the target.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what this means between the United States and Russia.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, between the United States and Russia, I think it really doesn’t change very much. The Russians can denounce the Trident warhead, but the reality is that they have 2,000 of their own small nuclear weapons of this sort opposite Europe. And one of the justifications for the deployment of this new nuclear weapon, Amy, was that the Russians in fact had, if you will, a numerical advantage against NATO, and there was a desire to have a more “usable” nuclear weapon in order to eliminate that advantage. I think the U.S.-Russian situation is certainly tense, but it’s not really what this weapon is about. What this weapon is about is having a more usable nuclear weapon against countries like Iran and North Korea, where in fact a shocking first use of nuclear weapons, a preemptive use of nuclear weapons, would be used to either stop a war or to destroy a very important target, say, for instance, if there were a missile on a launchpad ready to strike at that United States.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2017, General John Hyten, who’s now vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. already has military capabilities to respond to Russian deployment of nuclear weapons.

GENJOHN HYTEN: The plans that we have right now — one of the things that surprised me most when I took command on November 3rd was the flexible options that are in all our options today. So we actually have very flexible options in our plans. So, if something bad happens in the world and there’s a response and I’m on the phone with the secretary of defense and the president and the entire staff, which is the attorney general, secretary of state and everybody, I actually have a series of very flexible options, from conventional all the way up to large-scale nuke, that I can advise the president on to give him options on what he would want to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Arkin, if you could respond?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Options. That’s what they’re always saying, “options.” They need better options to do this, better options to do that. You have to look at this new weapon and say, “In its most basic terms, what does it give the United States that it doesn’t already have?” And those two things that I already mentioned: a prompt capability, being able to strike at a target in 15 minutes or less, and, second, an assured capability — that is, a missile that’s able to penetrate any enemy air defenses.

That makes it a particularly dangerous weapon in the hands of the current president, because I’ve heard from many people, more than I expected in my reporting, that they were concerned that Donald Trump, in his own way, might be more prone to accept the use of nuclear weapons as one of options when he was presented with a long list of options. One senior officer said to me, “We’re afraid that if we present Donald Trump with a hundred options of what to do in a certain crisis, and only one of them is a nuclear option, that he might go down the list and choose the one that is the most catastrophic.” And that officer said, “In 35 years of my being in the military, I’ve never thought before that I had to think of the personality of the president in presenting military options.”

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about Iran now and what this means for Iran.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, the deployment, it happened very quickly. The decision was made in February 2018. The Trident warhead was already on the production line for the strategic submarines. So, at the end of the run of these warheads, they made about 50 new ones that were of the low-yield variety, because the production line was already operating and hot. So it happened very quickly. Ironically, it happened at the very time that the House of Representatives was debating whether or not the weapon should even be deployed. And by the time that was finished and President Trump had signed the defense appropriations bill on 20th of December, the weapon had already been in the field. So, it shows really a disconnect, as well, in the congressional debate between what’s actually happening on the ground and what it is that they’re talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, for this to have been passed, you know, the House isn’t the Senate. The House is controlled by Democrats, so the Democrats passed this.

WILLIAM ARKIN: That’s correct. But in the end, the Senate turned down the House recommendation that the weapon not be deployed. And really, the tragedy here is that all of this occurred while the Tennessee was being loaded with a new missile, while the Tennessee was being prepared to go out on a new patrol, while the Tennessee actually went out into the Atlantic Ocean.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk again about Iran, exactly.

WILLIAM ARKIN: So, Iran is important because in June, when the drone was shot down, the president declined to retaliate militarily. And I think he got a lot of criticism from his party, from his wing, that he had made the wrong decision, that the United States should have retaliated against Iran. I think that stuck with Donald Trump. And I think, in the end, when it came to the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, in Baghdad, killed on the 2nd of January, that strike, people have told me, specifically was approved by Donald Trump, enthusiastically pushed by Donald Trump, because it kind of erased the mistake of him not retaliating in June.

At the same time, the United States was also increasing the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, in the Iran area. B-52 bombers were flown to Qatar. The USS Abraham Lincoln was sailed into the region. And there was a general buildup of defensive forces in places like Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia.

At this very moment when U.S.-Iranian relations are at such a deep, I think, divide and at a time also when Iran is free — and it’s not clear that they will, but free — to continue to pursue the development of nuclear materials and nuclear weapons, I think that we see maybe the beginning of a little bit of a creation of an argument that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction and that the United States is going to have to take action against that. And you’ve seen now from the president a number of very blunt statements that have said, “We will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.” That’s not necessarily what anyone I’m talking to in the military is focusing their attention on. They’re much more concerned about Iran in Syria, Iran in Yemen, Iran’s role in Iraq. But in terms of war planning, I think at the highest levels within the U.S. government there’s a general consensus about Iran as being still one of the “axis of evil,” still being in pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the Trump administration, particularly if it’s re-elected, is going to make Iran, I think, the centerpiece of a new defense strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, it is President Trump that set that situation up by pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear accord and decimating it.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Yes, that and also the second decision that was made, which was designating the Quds Force as a foreign terrorist organization. This, ironically, in kind of the bureaucracy of terrorism, triggered a number of decisions and a number of actions, one of which was, with foreign terrorist organizations, the U.S. military then begins the process of targeting their leadership. And that’s what resulted in their starting to track Qassem Soleimani and then ultimately killing him. So it seems to me that we have these two separate tracks kind of converging at the same time: a foreign terrorist organization designation, on the one hand, and weapons of mass destruction, on the other.

AMY GOODMAN: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently advanced the Doomsday Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight, the clock a symbolic timekeeper that tracks the likelihood of nuclear war and other existential threats. It now stands closer to catastrophe than at any time since its creation in 1947. This is Mary Robinson, former Irish president, former U.N. human rights chief, speaking last month as the clock was set to 100 seconds to midnight.

MARY ROBINSON: The Doomsday Clock is a globally recognized indicator of the vulnerability of our existence. It’s a striking metaphor for the precarious state of the world, but, most frighteningly, as we have just heard, it’s a metaphor backed by rigorous scientific scrutiny. This is no mere analogy. We are now 100 seconds to midnight, and the world needs to wake up. Our planet faces two simultaneous existential threats: the climate crisis and nuclear weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Irish President Mary Robinson. The significance of the Doomsday Clock, Bill?

WILLIAM ARKIN: I think the real significance is the lack of public interaction and public activism on the question of nuclear weapons. Really, that’s the missing ingredient today, Amy. We have a situation where the United States and Russia are engaged in multi-hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear modernization, at a time when the United States is at a high level of crisis with Iran and North Korea. And where is the public? Where is the public? And where is the anti-nuclear movement? And where even is any candidate speaking up about this subject?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of the anti-nuclear movement, the nuclear-armed submarine we’re talking about was deployed from Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia. This is the same base where seven Catholic peace activists were recently found guilty on three felony counts and a misdemeanor charge for breaking into the base on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth [sic], on April 4th, 2018. This is Plowshares activist Martha Hennessy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day. It was actually the anniversary of his assassination. But this is Martha Hennessy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, speaking after she was convicted.

MARTHA HENNESSY: The weapons are still there. The treaties are being knocked down one after the next. But we are called to keep trying. And we will do this together. And we have no other choice. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of the Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, one of the seven who were found guilty when they went onto that nuclear base. So, Bill, in this last comment, if you can talk about the significance of their action? And also, when you say “low-yield” nuclear weapon, it must calm people. But this is a third of the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima?

WILLIAM ARKIN: So, “low-yield” is merely the title. It’s like saying that a Hummer is a small truck. I think that what’s important for people to take away from this development is that the United States has a new usable nuclear weapon, what the military itself considers to be more usable. That’s the change. And it’s also a weapon that can be stealthily and covertly deployed in the oceans. And that’s a change. And we do it at a time when, at least against Russia and North Korea and Iran, the United States is engaged in nuclear brinksmanship, at a time when it seems to me that the Congress is out to lunch, and there isn’t really an anti-nuclear movement in the United States, a mass movement, that could take up arms against this.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Martha Hennessy, Liz McAlister, the peace activist and widow of Phil Berrigan, and others getting convicted on their protest at the base?

WILLIAM ARKIN: I started writing about nuclear weapons in 1981, when Ronald Reagan became president. I believe that’s about the time when we met. And then we had marches in which hundreds of thousands of people were in Central Park and in Europe and around the world. And today we have nothing of the sort. So, yes, it’s important that these peace workers continue to do their work and continue to do their important attention operations and exercises, their own, if you will, actions against nuclear weapons. But it’s not enough. The public has to be more engaged. And I believe that the Democratic Party candidates for president need to speak up and say something about nuclear weapons, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there is a debate tonight in New Hampshire. We’ll see if that question is raised. William Arkin, longtime reporter who’s focused on military and nuclear policy, author of many books, including Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State. And we will link to your articles and your cover story in Newsweek magazine.