Iran’s Nuclear Standoff Is About to Enter a Perilous New Phase

  • Uranium stockpile limits could be breached as soon as June 27
  • Trump prepares new U.S. sanctions, says Iran can’t go nuclear

Iran is set to breach a cap on its enriched-uranium stockpile within days, potentially pushing its conflict with the U.S. into a dangerous new phase.

Limiting the volume and purity of its accumulated uranium was a central part of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. The U.S. abandoned the deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions. President Donald Trump said Saturday he’ll impose “major” additional U.S. penalties on Monday.

While Trump announced the sanctions, days after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone, he didn’t provide details. In his Twitter post Trump specified the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, echoing comments made to reporters at the White House on Saturday.

“All I want is no nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “Let me just tell you, they’re not going to have a nuclear weapon.”

Read more: Trump Says Major Sanctions on Iran Monday After Drone Downed

In a move foreshadowed by Iranian leaders for weeks, the cap set on the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium could be broken by Thursday, a day before negotiators from the countries, mostly European, still committed to the accord meet in Vienna.

Uranium Stockpile Trajectories

Iran could have enough material for a weapon by December

Source: Data compiled by Bloomberg

“If Iran’s leadership comes to the conclusion that it has no choice other than talking to Washington, it will do so only after it has resuscitated its leverage,” said Ali Vaez, a director at the International Crisis Group. “This means that the path to new negotiations passes through another perilous nuclear standoff.”

Iran eliminated some 97% of its enriched uranium to comply with the nuclear agreement with China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. The country previously had enough material to build more than a dozen bombs. While Iran has always said its program is civilian, world powers pursued the deal because they doubted that claim.

Pressure on Europe

Iran’s president signaled on May 8 that the country would soon violate terms of the agreement unless European governments, which haven’t pulled out of the deal, guarantee the trade it envisages.

Five weeks later, Iran said it would increase the rate of enrichment. Barring policy change or mechanical breakdown, Iran could accumulate the volume of material needed to build a weapon by the end of the year.

“While Iran’s frustration with Trump’s reckless pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington nonprofit, said by email.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran has “increased the risk of a new nuclear crisis,” he said.

Compliance Report

The association estimates Iran would need about 1,050 kilograms (2,315 pounds) of uranium enriched to 3.67% to build one bomb. The material would then need to undergo further enrichment. The nuclear deal was designed to prevent Iran from breaking out and constructing a weapon within a year.

International Atomic Energy Agency monitors said last month that Iran has met its obligations. Diplomats from the countries remaining in the accord will meet June 28 to discuss “Iran’s announcement regarding the implementation of its nuclear commitments.”

Trump and Iran may be on the brink of a war that would likely be devastating to both sides

Donald Trump John Bolton
President Donald Trump.
 Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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  • The US could be on the brink of war with Iran after weeks of rising tensions.
  • The US has sent bombers, an aircraft-carrier strike group, and more to the Middle East in response to unspecified threats to US forces or interests in the region from Tehran, Iran, prompting the Iranian government to issue warnings about the consequences of an attack.
  • Critics of the Trump administration feel the president’s Iran policy is being driven by national security adviser John Bolton, who has supported military strikes against Iran in the past.
  • A war with Iran would likely be geopolitically and economically disastrous while further destabilizing a region that has been consumed by conflict for years.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Tensions between the US and Iran have reached historic heights in recent weeks, prompting fears of a military confrontation that could escalate into all-out war.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on, how we got here, and what the stakes are.

What’s going on with Iran?

On May 5, national security adviser John Bolton issued a statementannouncing the US was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Middle East to counter unspecified threats from Iran.

Bolton said the US was not seeking war with Iran, but that the deployment was meant to send “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack” on the US or its allies “will be met with unrelenting force.”

The US has since repositioned or sent other military assets to the region.

Read more: The US is sending a ton of firepower to take on Iran — here’s everything headed its way

The exact nature of the threats the US is responding to remains unclear, but officials have said there’s been indications of a “possible attack” against US forces in the region by Iran or its proxies.

Some reports have also suggested the Trump administration has discussed sending an additional 120,000 troops to the Middle East amid the tensions with Iran. The president on May 14 denied this, but said he’d be willing to send “a hell of a lot more” troops than 120,000 if necessary.

Trump has fluctuated between urging Tehran to sit down and hold talks with the US and issuing threats via Twitter.

—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019 ” data-e2e-name=”embed-container” data-media-container=”embed” style=”box-sizing: border-box; margin: 20px 0px;”>

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!

126K people are talking about this

Iranian leaders have signaled they don’t want war with the US but are prepared to respond if attacked, while issuing veiled threats about their ability to quickly enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have raised alarm bells about the White House wanting war with Iran, and they’ve made it clear they would oppose any military action without congressional approval.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress are placing the blame on Iran for the confrontation and urging Trump to “stand firm.”

How did we get here?

The US and Iran have a complicated history and have been adversaries for decades, encapsulated by the oft-repeated “Death to America” chants from Iranian leaders.

In many ways, the modern US-Iran relationship began via a CIA-orchestrated coup in the 1950s that placed a pro-American monarch — Mohammad Reza Shah — in charge of the Middle Eastern country. The Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, an uprising that shaked the foundations of the Muslim world and led to theinfamous hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran that continues to be a touchy subject in Washington.

Read more: Trump says ‘I hope not’ when asked if the US is going to war with Iran

After years of animosity, former President Barack Obama sought to improve relations with Iran via diplomacy. Obama’s administration orchestrated the landmark pact known as the Iran nuclear deal, which was finalized in July 2015 and aimed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions.

Critics of the deal contended it didn’t go far enough to bar Iran from building nuclear weapons and said Tehran could not be trusted. Along these lines, Trump withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018 despite no evidence Iran was violating its terms. This move put Washington at odds with key allies and the already contentious US-Iran relationship took a turn for the worse.

The situation was hardly improved after Trump in April designated Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terror organization.This prompted Iranian leaders to warn that any action taken against the country would lead to “a reciprocal action.”

The US and Iran have also been working against one another in the ongoing war in Yemen, where the US-backed Saudi-led coalition is fighting against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. And in the ongoing Syria conflict, Iran and its proxies have supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces Trump has launched military strikes against.

Many Democratic lawmakers and some experts feel Trump’s Iran policy is being driven by Bolton, who has long been hawkish toward Tehran. Bolton, one of the architects of the Iraq War, has expressed support for a military strike against Iran a number of times in the past.

What are the stakes?

A war with Iran would potentially be more calamitous than the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, bogged the US down in a costly and lengthy war, and helped catalyze the rise of the Islamic state group (ISIS).

Iran has a population of roughly 82 million people and its military is ranked as the 14th most powerful in the world. According to recent estimates, Iran has 523,000 active military personnel in addition to 250,000 reserve personnel.

Comparatively, Iraq had a population of roughly 25 million and the Iraqi military had fewer than 450,000 personnel when the US invaded over a decade ago.

Iran is also much bigger than Iraq geographically — 591,000 square miles of land versus 168,000 square miles, and its influence has grown as the power of its rival, Iraq, collapsed in the wake of the US war there.

If the US launched an attack against Iran, it would also reverberate across the Middle East. Iran has proxies throughout the region and is allied with militant groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon. A revised Pentagon estimate released in April found Iranian proxy forces killedat least 608 US troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2011.

Read more: How the Trump administration got into a showdown with Iran that could lead to war

Moreover, Iran shares a border with a number of countries the US considers allies and has a military presence in — including Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan. None of these countries are especially stable at the moment, as they all continue to deal with ongoing conflicts and their consequences (including millions of displaced people).

In terms of other geopolitical blowback, Iran is allied with Russia and China and it’s unclear how these major powers might react if conflict breaks out. Key US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are adversaries of Iran and just a stone’s throw away from it, would also likely get sucked into a US-Iran war.

A war with Iran could also be extraordinarily disruptive economically given it borders the Straight of Hormuz, a narrow route that roughly a third of the world’s oil tanker traffic travels through. Experts have predicted that if the route were blocked it would quickly lead to a 30% drop in daily global oil exports and prices would rapidly go up, the Washington Post reported.

Iran’s forces would likely be defeated by the US, but could exact a heavy toll with cruise missiles, naval mines, and fighter jets. Any troops that survive could blend into the population and lead a brutal insurgency against the US occupation force. That was the scenario that unfolded for the US in Iraq, a country a third the size of Iran, and proved to be an insurmountable challenge.

In short, though the US has a military that is consistently ranked the most powerful in the world, evidence suggests a war with Iran would be devastating in myriad ways.

‘Nuclear Coffin’ Leaking Radioactive Waste Into Pacific Ocean, U.N. Warns

Reuters

A Cold War-era concrete “coffin” brimming with atomic waste is leaking radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned. The dome was built to contain the nuclear waste that was created when the U.S. and France conducted atomic tests in the Pacific between 1946 and 1958. “The Pacific was victimized in the past as we all know,” said Guterres, according to AFP. The structure is on the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands; Guterres described the dome as “a kind of coffin” designed to contain nuclear material. Thousands of indigenous island people were evacuated or exposed to radioactive fallout when the U.S. carried out dozens of nuclear weapons tests in the area. The bombs tested included the 1954 Bravo hydrogen bomb, which was 1,000 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Trump Moves the World Closer to “Doomsday”

In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union adopted the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in an effort to eliminate missiles on hair-trigger alert for nuclear war due to their short flight times. It was the first time the two countries agreed to destroy nuclear weapons. That treaty outlawed nearly 2,700 ballistic or land-based cruise missiles with a range of roughly 300 to 3,000 miles.

The Trump administration thought nothing of pulling out of the INF. On February 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the treaty, starting a dangerous chain reaction that brings us closer to nuclear war. Russia followed suit and pulled out of the treaty the next day.

Then the three countries with the largest nuclear arsenals quickly test-launched nuclear-capable missiles. France conducted a test of its medium-range air-to-surface missile on February 4. The next day, the United States fired a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). And an hour and a half later, Russia launched an RS-24 Yars ICBM.

Richard Burt participated in the negotiations of the INF during the Reagan administration. Last fall, he predicted that U.S. withdrawal would lead to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range missiles and the United States’ development of new sea- and air-based weapons systems. Sure enough, on February 4, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced his country plans to build mid-range, nuclear-capable missiles within two years.

“New intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles and low-yield warheads now being planned both in Russia and United States are nothing other than filed-down triggers to all-out thermonuclear war,” Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, told Truthout. He warns of “nuclear winter,” which is the end of civilization as we know it. A consultant to the Defense Department and the White House in 1961, Ellsberg drafted Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s plans for nuclear war.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, concurs. “Trump has fired the starting pistol on Cold War II. Only this one could be bigger, more dangerous, and the world may not be so lucky this time around.”

Trump’s Actions Undermine Nuclear Disarmament

The adoption of the INF led to the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which considerably reduced the number of long-range strategic nuclear weapons. The New START, signed in 2010, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads from a maximum of 2,200 in 2010 to 1,550 in 2018. Trump’s cavalier withdrawal from INF does not portend well for the renewal of New START in 2021.

Moreover, Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 would allow the United States to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks. This new U.S. policy opens the door to first-use of nuclear weapons, which is prohibited by international law.

The Nuclear Posture Review also violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the United States is a party. This treaty requires parties “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

The Doomsday Clock Says “Two Minutes to Midnight”

In order to convey the urgency of the threat to humanity and the planet, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock. It uses imagery of the apocalypse (midnight) and a nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The decision to either move or leave in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made each year. The Clock is a universally recognized measure of vulnerability to catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons, climate change or other emerging technologies that could pose a threat. On January 24, the Bulletin once again kept the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight. And that was before the U.S. and Russia pulled out of the INF.

“Trump and Putin are both posturing as gunslingers in a Western movie,” Ellsberg warned. “But the weapons in their quick-draw holsters are not pistols; they are doomsday machines. And this is not high noon; it is two minutes to midnight.”

Toward Denuclearization

In his book, Ellsberg proposes the U.S. government undertake the following measures toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons:

  1. A U.S. no-first-use policy;
  2. Probing investigative hearings on war plans to avoid nuclear winter;
  3. Eliminating ICBMs;
  4. Ending the pretense of preemptive damage-limiting by first-strike forces;
  5. Foregoing profits, jobs and alliance hegemony based on maintaining that pretense; and
  6. Otherwise dismantling the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which Ellsberg calls the American Doomsday Machine.

On January 30, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, took a good first step. They introduced the No First Use Act, to establish in law that it is the policy of the United States not to fire nuclear weapons first so “that the United States should never initiate a nuclear war.”

The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) forbids ratifying countries “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also prohibits the transfer of, use of, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. The treaty, adopted in 2017, will enter into force after 50 nations have ratified it. Thus far, it has 21 ratifications. But the five original nuclear-armed countries, which also happen to be the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Russia, France, China and the U.K. — did not participate in the treaty negotiations and have not agreed to it.

Resistance against nuclear weapons also takes the form of civil disobedience, such as the recent action by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7.

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7

When I was growing up in the early days of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear annihilation was pervasive. Although U.S. nuclear weapons have been on hair trigger alert for 73 years, “nuclear weapons have become normal,” Patrick O’Neill told Truthout. He and six other Catholic activists are facing up to 25 years in prison for their symbolic action to disarm the nuclear weapons on Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia. They chose April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to mount their protest.

In May 2018, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 were charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass, stemming from their action at the Kings Bay Naval Base. The base is homeport to six nuclear ballistic missile submarines each armed with 16 Trident II missiles. They carried with them a copy of Ellsberg’s book and left it on the base.

The defendants, who will likely go to trial this spring, maintain that any use or threat to use nuclear weapons of mass destruction is illegal, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 spokesperson Bill Ofenloch told Truthout. They are also arguing that their prosecution violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because their actions were motivated by their Catholic belief that nuclear weapons are immoral and illegal. The Act was passed in 1993 to strengthen protection of free exercise of religion. Finally, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 are claiming that Trump’s repeated threats to use nuclear weapons and his illegal conduct have not been prosecuted, so the government’s decision to prosecute only those who protest against nuclear weapons constitutes unlawful selective prosecution.

Co-defendant Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day. The movement, founded in 1933, comprises 203 Catholic Worker communities committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken. Catholic Workers protest war, racism, violence and injustice. (The Catholic Worker newspaper is still published and sells for a penny a copy.)

Hennessy told Truthout, “The U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty is designed to ensnare Russia and the world in a new nuclear arms race.” She warns, “This is empire run amok, we have lost our democracy, let us pray we don’t lose our world and each other.”

It is incumbent upon all of us to resist the inexorable march toward nuclear winter. We must join together in coalitions and protest to Congress, the White House, in writing and in the streets. There is no time to lose. It is two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

Here’s Why Russian Bombers Are in Venezuela. And Why the U.S. Is So Angry About It

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VENEZUELA BARS OPPOSITION LEADER JUAN GUAIDO FROM LEAVING THE COUNTRY
FATAL GAME OF ‘RUSSIAN ROULETTE’ KILLS ST. LOUIS POLICE OFFICER
U.S. WARNS RUSSIA OVER INF ARMS RACE TREATY, AHEAD OF POSSIBLE WITHDRAWAL ON FRIDAY
×
By MICHAEL ZENNIE 

December 13, 2018

When two of Russia’s most modern, nuclear-capable bombers landed in Venezuela earlier this week, American officials quickly took note.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted out a statement calling the move “two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.” The angry reaction may well have been the intended purpose, according to experts on Russia and Venezuela.

The arrival of the Tu-160 “White Swan” strategic bombers in Caracas on Monday serves to remind the United States that Russia can still project military might into the Western hemisphere, says Miriam Lanskoy, the Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy, a non-profit. “I don’t know that this constitutes some kind of military threat, but it is a communication about Russia’s overall global reach.”

The Tu-160 bombers were manufactured at the end of the Cold War and are among the most advanced strategic bombers in the world. They are capable of flying at twice the speed of sound and carrying both conventional and nuclear-armed cruise missiles that have a range of more than 3,400 miles. It’s not known whether the Russian bombers were carrying any kind of armament on their visit to Venezuela.

The White House told The Hill that the bombers — along with a Russian An-124 cargo plane and an Il-62 passenger jet — would leave on Friday.

Russia and Venezuela have had close military ties for decades. During boom times, oil-rich Venezuela has been a major buyer of Russian military hardware — with contracts for fighter jets, tanks, small arms and other equipment totaling more than $12 billion, according to Americas Quarterly. More recently, Russia has helped Venezuela develop a cryptocurrency intended to help it evade U.S. sanctions.

Those ties have loosened since Venezuela’s economy went into freefall in 2014 following years of declining oil production and economic mismanagement, but Russia is currently working to expand its influence in Latin America as well as around the world, Lanskoy says. Russia’s military has for years been intervening in Syria to help prop up dictator Bashar al-Assad, but it is also reportedly making inroads with U.S. allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In Africa, a close Putin ally is reportedly offering mercenaries to strongmen in 10 nations.

Russia’s decision to land bombers in Venezuela also comes as the U.S. plans to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which restricts the United States and Russia from keeping a broad range of nuclear-armed missiles. American officials say new Russian weapons are in violation of the treaty.

“This is Russia trying to force the U.S. to say, ‘listen, if you withdraw from this and if you make these moves in Europe, we will make these moves as well,’” says Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuela analyst for IHS Markit.

For Venezuela, whose collapsing economy has led to chronic food and medicine shortages, the Russian mission represents a useful cameo on the world stage. President Nicolas Maduro will also be happy of a demonstration to potential opponents in the Venezuelan military that he still has powerful friends in Moscow, Moya-Ocampos said. The United States has imposed sanctions on several top Venezuelan officials, and earlier this year barred Americans from buying Venezuelan debt or debt from the state-run oil company.

The long-term repercussions of the Russian bombers’ presence are likely to be limited. Both Moya-Ocampos and Lanskoy say it’s unlikely the short-term stay of the Russian Tu-160 bombers could result in the establishment of of a Russian air base, like the one in Syria, or a Cuban Missile Crisis-style standoff with Russia stationing nuclear weapons in Venezuela.

A Russian base would represent a much larger investment in Venezuela than Russia has signaled it’s willing to make, as well as a larger provocation to the United States. “The permanent deployment of Russian troops on Venezuelan soil would go beyond the big brother relationship between Russia and Venezuela,” Moya-Ocampos says.

Moya-Ocampos also says Russia’s friendship with Venezuela is doing nothing to improve the desperate situation of Venezuelan citizens. The Russians — who had provided billion in loans to Venezuela — are now using the relationship to establish access to lucrative Venezuelan oil and mining.

Dire conditions in Venezuela are likely to get even worse in 2019. The International Monetary Fund estimated that the Venezuelan economy shrank by 18% in 2018, and expects a further contraction by 5% in 2019. Hyperinflation, estimated at 1.37 million percent in 2018, could reach 10 million percent for 2019.

“It’s simply a mess, the whole country is going down the drain,” Moya-Ocampos says.

Write to Michael Zennie at michael.zennie@timeinc.com.

Russia Pulls Out of Nuclear Treaty in ‘Symmetrical’ Response to U.S. Move

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia discussed new weapons systems in a televised meeting on Saturday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.CreditPool photo by Alexei Nikolsky
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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia discussed new weapons systems in a televised meeting on Saturday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.CreditCreditPool photo by Alexei Nikolsky

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in a decision that was widely expected, suspended his country’s observance of a key nuclear arms control pact on Saturday in response to a similar move by the United States a day before.

But adding to a sense that the broader architecture of nuclear disarmament has started to unravel, Mr. Putin also said that Russia would build weapons previously banned under the treaty and would no longer initiate talks with the United States on any matters related to nuclear arms control.

The Trump administration withdrew from the treaty, a keystone of the late Cold War disarmament pacts known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, saying that Russia had been violating it for years. The decision holds the potential to initiate a new arms race, not only with Russia, but also China, which was never a signatory to the 1987 treaty.

Beijing responded to the American announcement by warning on Saturday that the breakup of the treaty would undermine global security, but also by rejecting calls for China to join an expanded version of the pact.

In a televised meeting on Saturday with his ministers of foreign affairs and defense, Mr. Putin said Russia would, indeed, design and build weapons previously banned under the treaty — something the United States says Russia is already doing — but would not deploy them unless America did so first.

[Read more: U.S. suspends nuclear arms treaty with Russia.]

“I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race,” Mr. Putin told his ministers. Money to build the new missiles, he said, will come from the existing defense budget.

The treaty had prohibited the United States and Russia from testing or deploying land-based missiles able to fly in what are known as short or intermediate ranges: 300 to 3,400 miles. Both countries have sea- and air-launched missiles that fly in these ranges.

The minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, suggested that Russia in coming months design and test a land-based launcher for its maritime cruise missile, called the Kalibr, an analogue to the American Tomahawk, and a new short-range ballistic missile.

“I agree,” Mr. Putin said. “Our response will be symmetrical. Our American partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the I.N.F. Treaty, and we are suspending it too. They said that they are engaged in research, development and design work, and we will do the same.”

In his remarks, the Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergey V. Lavrov, presented a picture of the wobbly state of the whole architecture of American and Russian nuclear disarmament that had been erected over the past 50 years, beginning with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.

Mr. Lavrov suggested a number of treaties were in need of urgent review, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty that prohibits passing nuclear weapons technology to countries that do not already posses it. He argued that America had violated it by conducting nuclear deterrence training exercises with NATO nations that were not declared nuclear powers.

China’s array of nuclear weapons remains much smaller than the American and Russian forces, but Beijing has been upgrading and expanding its arsenal. Some critics of the intermediate nuclear forces treaty have argued that it unfairly ties the United States’ hands from responding effectively to China’s military buildup.

In October, President Trump cited China’s potential expansion as a reason the United States should consider quitting the treaty.

“If Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” Mr. Trump said after a rally in Nevada.

In January, Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-controlled tabloid newspaper with a heavily nationalist tone, reported that a People’s Liberation Army unit had carried out an exercise with an intermediate-range “ship killer” missile formally called the DF-26. China probably has 16 to 30 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, an annual Pentagon report on China’s military said last year.

At the televised meeting, Mr. Putin said that Russia remained open to negotiation, and that Moscow’s proposals to resolve disputes “remained on the table.” But he said that neither the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should initiate talks with the United States.

“I suggest that we wait until our partners are ready to engage in equal and meaningful dialogue,” he said.

China, meanwhile, appeared to have no interest in binding itself to an intermediate missile treaty, even as it defended the current agreement between Russia and the United States.

“This treaty plays a significant role in easing major-country relations, promoting international and regional peace, and safeguarding global strategic balance and stability,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement on the ministry’s website. “China is opposed to the U.S. withdrawal and urges the U.S. and Russia to properly resolve differences through constructive dialogue.”

But he added: “China opposes the multilateralization of this treaty. What is imperative at the moment is to uphold and implement the existing treaty instead of creating a new one.”

U.S. General Considered Nuclear Response in Vietnam War, Cables Show

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President Johnson with Gen. William Westmoreland in South Vietnam in 1967.CreditCreditYoichi Okamoto/Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

WASHINGTON — In one of the darkest moments of the Vietnam War, the top American military commander in Saigon activated a plan in 1968 to move nuclear weapons to South Vietnam until he was overruled by President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to recently declassified documents cited in a new history of wartime presidential decisions.

The documents reveal a long-secret set of preparations by the commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, to have nuclear weapons at hand should American forces find themselves on the brink of defeat at Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the war.

With the approval of the American commander in the Pacific, General Westmoreland had put together a secret operation, code-named Fracture Jaw, that included moving nuclear weapons into South Vietnam so that they could be used on short notice against North Vietnamese troops.

Johnson’s national security adviser, Walt W. Rostow, alerted the president in a memorandum on White House stationery.

The president rejected the plan, and ordered a turnaround, according to Tom Johnson, then a young special assistant to the president and note-taker at the meetings on the issue, which were held in the family dining room on the second floor of the White House.
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The White House national security adviser, Walt W. Rostow, alerted President Lyndon B. Johnson of plans to move nuclear weapons into South Vietnam on the same day that Gen. William C. Westmoreland had told the American commander in the Pacific that he approved the operation.

“When he learned that the planning had been set in motion, he was extraordinarily upset and forcefully sent word through Rostow, and I think directly to Westmoreland, to shut it down,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview.

He said the president’s fear was “a wider war” in which the Chinese would enter the fray, as they had in Korea in 1950.

“Johnson never fully trusted his generals,” said Mr. Johnson, who is of no relation to the president. “He had great admiration for General Westmoreland, but he didn’t want his generals to run the war.”

Had the weapons been used, it would have added to the horrors of one of the most tumultuous and violent years in modern American history. Johnson announced weeks later that he would not run for re-election. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated shortly thereafter.

The story of how close the United States came to reaching for nuclear weapons in Vietnam, 23 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender, is contained in “Presidents of War,” a coming book by Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian.

“Johnson certainly made serious mistakes in waging the Vietnam War,” said Mr. Beschloss, who found the documents during his research for the book. “But we have to thank him for making sure that there was no chance in early 1968 of that tragic conflict going nuclear.”

The new documents — some of which were quietly declassified two years ago — suggest it was moving in that direction.

With the Khe Sanh battle on the horizon, Johnson pressed his commanders to make sure the United States did not suffer an embarrassing defeat — one that would have proved to be a political disaster and a personal humiliation.

The North Vietnamese forces were using everything they had against two regiments of United States Marines and a comparatively small number of South Vietnamese troops.

While publicly expressing confidence in the outcome of the battle at Khe Sanh, General Westmoreland was also privately organizing a group to meet in Okinawa to plan how to move nuclear weapons into the South — and how they might be used against the North Vietnamese forces.

“Oplan Fracture Jaw has been approved by me,” General Westmoreland wrote to Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr., the American commander in the Pacific, on Feb. 10, 1968. (The admiral was named for the Civil War general and president, who was married to an ancestor.)

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The planned operation “Fracture Jaw” to move nuclear weapons into South Vietnam was to be set in motion under this Feb. 10, 1968, notice by Gen. Willam C. Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam.

The plan did not last long.

That day, Mr. Rostow sent an “eyes only” memorandum to the president, his second in a week warning of the impending plan.

Two days later, Admiral Sharp sent an order to “discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw” and to place all the planning material, “including messages and correspondence relating thereto, under positive security.”

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“Discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw,” the commander for American operations in the Pacific, Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr., ordered in a terse cable dated Feb. 12, 1968. “Security of this action and prior actions must be air tight.”

The incident has echoes for modern times. It was only 14 months ago that President Trump was threatening the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea — which, unlike North Vietnam at the time, possesses its own small nuclear arsenal.

There have been other moments when presidents had to consider, or bluff about, using atomic weapons. The most famous was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the closest that the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear conflict.

And before he was dismissed in 1951 by President Harry S. Truman, Gen. Douglas MacArthur explored with his superiors the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean War. Truman had feared that MacArthur’s aggressive strategy would set off a larger war with China, but at one point did move atomic warheads to bases in the Pacific, though not to Korea itself.

But the case of Khe Sanh was different, the documents show.

“In Korea, MacArthur did not make a direct appeal to move nuclear weapons into the theater almost immediately,” when it appeared that South Korea might fall to the North’s invasion in 1950, Mr. Beschloss said. “But in Vietnam, Westmoreland was pressuring the president to do exactly that.”

The seriousness of that discussion was revealed in a lengthy cable about the Khe Sanh battle that General Westmoreland sent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler, on Feb. 3, 1968.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson with, from left, Gen. Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Westmoreland; and Robert S. McNamara, the defense secretary, in 1967.CreditAssociated Press

“Should the situation in the DMZ area change dramatically, we should be prepared to introduce weapons of greater effectiveness against massed forces,” General Westmoreland wrote in a cable that was declassified in 2014 but did not come to light until Mr. Beschloss cited it in his forthcoming book.

“Under such circumstances, I visualize that either tactical nuclear weapons or chemical agents would be active candidates for employment.”

Within four days, Admiral Sharp, the Pacific commander, wrote that he had “been briefed on the contingency plan for the employement of tactical nuclear weapons in the Khe Sanh/DMZ area which was drafted by members of our respective staffs last week in Okinawa.’’

He declared it “conceptually sound” with some minor alterations, and asked for a full plan to be forwarded to him “on an expedited basis so that the necessary supporting plans can be drawn up.”

Three days later, General Westmoreland wrote back that he had approved the plan. At the White House, Mr. Rostow noted to the president: “There are no nuclear weapons in South Vietnam. Presidential authority would be required to put them there.”

That notification led to the president’s angry eruption, and within days Admiral Sharp, once so eager to develop the plans, ordered a shutdown.

“Discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw,” he commanded in a Feb. 12, 1968, cable to General Westmoreland, with copies to the Joint Chiefs. “Debrief all personnel with access to this planning project that there can be no disclosure of the content of the plan or knowledge that such planning was either underway or suspended.”

None of this was known to the American Marines and other soldiers who were being shelled at Khe Sanh.

“I don’t remember any discussion of atomic weapons on the ground at Khe Sanh,” Lewis M. Simons, then an Associated Press reporter on the ground with the troops, and later a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who worked at The Washington Post and Knight Ridder newspapers.

Mr. Beschloss’s book, which will be published on Tuesday by Crown, examines challenges facing presidents from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush. It also reveals that at the same time the nuclear debate was underway, senators were outraged to discover that the president and his aides had misled them about progress in the Vietnam War.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas, told his fellow senators that “we were just plain lied to,” and that the lying meant that the United States had lost “a form of democracy,” according to transcripts obtained by Mr. Beschloss, who is a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

There was even discussion of the possibility of impeaching the president for those lies. That discussion was terminated by Johnson’s decision, announced later that spring, not to seek re-election.

Shell and Exxon’s secret 1980s climate change warnings

Newly found documents from the 1980s show that fossil fuel companies privately predicted the global damage that would be caused by their products.

A Royal Dutch Shell logo.
 A Royal Dutch Shell logo. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/PA

One day in 1961, an American economist named Daniel Ellsberg stumbled across a piece of paper with apocalyptic implications. Ellsberg, who was advising the US government on its secret nuclear war plans, had discovered a document that contained an official estimate of the death toll in a preemptive “first strike” on China and the Soviet Union: 300 million in those countries, and double that globally.

Ellsberg was troubled that such a plan existed; years later, he tried to leak the details of nuclear annihilation to the public. Although his attempt failed, Ellsberg would become famous instead for leaking what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers – the US government’s secret history of its military intervention in Vietnam.

America’s amoral military planning during the Cold War echoes the hubris exhibited by another cast of characters gambling with the fate of humanity. Recently, secret documents have been unearthed detailing what the energy industry knew about the links between their products and global warming. But, unlike the government’s nuclear plans, what the industry detailed was put into action.

In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2060, CO2 levels would reach around 560 parts per million – double the preindustrial level – and that this would push the planet’s average temperatures up by about 2°C over then-current levels (and even more compared to pre-industrial levels).

Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C.
Pinterest
 Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C. Illustration: 1982 Exxon internal briefing document

Later that decade, in 1988, an internal report by Shell projected similar effects but also found that CO2 could double even earlier, by 2030. Privately, these companies did not dispute the links between their products, global warming, and ecological calamity. On the contrary, their research confirmed the connections.

Shell’s assessment foresaw a one-meter sea-level rise, and noted that warming could also fuel disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, resulting in a worldwide rise in sea level of “five to six meters.” That would be enough to inundate entire low-lying countries.

Shell’s analysts also warned of the “disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction,” predicted an increase in “runoff, destructive floods, and inundation of low-lying farmland,” and said that “new sources of freshwater would be required” to compensate for changes in precipitation. Global changes in air temperature would also “drastically change the way people live and work.” All told, Shell concluded, “the changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”

For its part, Exxon warned of “potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.” Like Shell’s experts, Exxon’s scientists predicted devastating sea-level rise, and warned that the American Midwest and other parts of the world could become desert-like. Looking on the bright side, the company expressed its confidence that “this problem is not as significant to mankind as a nuclear holocaust or world famine.”

The documents make for frightening reading. And the effect is all the more chilling in view of the oil giants’ refusal to warn the public about the damage that their own researchers predicted. Shell’s report, marked “confidential,” was first disclosed by a Dutch news organization earlier this year. Exxon’s study was not intended for external distribution, either; it was leaked in 2015.

Nor did the companies ever take responsibility for their products. In Shell’s study, the firm argued that the “main burden” of addressing climate change rests not with the energy industry, but with governments and consumers. That argument might have made sense if oil executives, including those from Exxon and Shell, had not later lied about climate change and actively prevented governments from enacting clean-energy policies.

Although the details of global warming were foreign to most people in the 1980s, among the few who had a better idea than most were the companies contributing the most to it. Despite scientific uncertainties, the bottom line was this: oil firms recognized that their products added CO2 to the atmosphere, understood that this would lead to warming, and calculated the likely consequences. And then they chose to accept those risks on our behalf, at our expense, and without our knowledge.

The catastrophic nuclear war plans that Ellsberg saw in the 1960s were a Sword of Damocles that fortunately never fell. But the oil industry’s secret climate change predictions are becoming reality, and not by accident. Fossil-fuel producers willfully drove us toward the grim future they feared by promoting their products, lying about the effects, and aggressively defending their share of the energy market.

As the world warms, the building blocks of our planet – its ice sheets, forests, and atmospheric and ocean currents – are being altered beyond repair. Who has the right to foresee such damage and then choose to fulfill the prophecy? Although war planners and fossil-fuel companies had the arrogance to decide what level of devastation was appropriate for humanity, only Big Oilhad the temerity to follow through. That, of course, is one time too many.

Benjamin Franta, a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, is a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, where his research focuses on the history of climate science and politics.

An earlier version of this piece, entitled “Global Warming’s Paper Trail”, was published on Sept. 12, 2018 by Project Syndicate.

World War 3 fears: Russia threaten NUCLEAR WEAPONS to Syria in response to US sanctions

https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1008474/world-war-3-russia-nuclear-weapon-syria-us-sanctions

RUSSIA may deploy nuclear weapons to Syria in response to the US policy of imposing sanctions over Moscow crossing “red lines”, a senior Russian lawmaker has warned.

US slaps sanctions on Russia over Skripal Novichok poisoning

Vladimir Gutenev, first deputy head of the economic policy committee of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, said it is time for Russia to draw its own red lines.

Among such measures, the official said the deployment of Russian tactical nukes in countries such as Syria, the use of gold-linked cryptocurrencies for Russian arms exports and the suspension of a number of treaties with the US – such as non-proliferation of missile technologies.

Mr Gutenev said: “I believe that now Russia has to draw its own ‘red lines.’

“The time has come to ponder on variants of asymmetric response to the US, which are now being suggested by experts and are intended not only to offset their sanctions but also to do some retaliatory damage.

“It’s no secret that serious pressure is being put on Russia, and it will only get worse.

“It is intended to deal a blow to defence cooperation, including defence exports.”

The minister added that Russia should follow the advice of “experts” and follow the US’ example of deploying nuclear weapons in other countries.

He added: “We should follow the advice of certain experts, who say that Russia should possibly suspend the implementation of treaties on non-proliferation of missile technologies, and also follow the US example and start deploying our tactical nuclear weapons in foreign countries.

world war 3 russia nuclear weapon syria us sanctions

Vladimir Gutenev said Russia should deploy tactical nukes in Syria (Image: GETTY)

world war 3 russia nuclear weapon syria us sanctions

The minister added that Russia should follow the advice of “experts” (Image: GETTY)

“It is possible that Syria, where we have a well-protected airbase, may become one of those countries.”

Commenting on sanctions already in place, Mr Gutenev said they are unlikely to do serious damage to Russia’s defence industry.

He continued: “The import substitution program has produced very good results, alternative suppliers have been found.

“However, we are concerned about the fact that the sanctions are still gaining momentum and have become somewhat imminent.”

world war 3 russia nuclear weapon syria us sanctions

Sergei and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench (Image: GETTY)

The US hit Russia with a fresh batch of sanctions on August 22 over its alleged involvement in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

Sergei and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench near the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury.

The Department of State claims Russia breached the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, 1992.

Gearing Up for the Third Gulf War

By Michael T. KlareTomDispatch | News Analysis

An Israeli soldier stands next to Merkava Mark IV tanks in a deployment area near the Syrian border in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)An Israeli soldier stands next to Merkava Mark IV tanks in a deployment area near the Syrian border in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)

With Donald Trump’s decision to shred the Iran nuclear agreement, announced last Tuesday, it’s time for the rest of us to start thinking about what a Third Gulf War would mean. The answer, based on the last 16 years of American experience in the Greater Middle East, is that it won’t be pretty.

The New York Times recently reported that US Army Special Forces were secretly aiding the Saudi Arabian military against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It was only the latest sign preceding President Trump’s Iran announcement that Washington was gearing up for the possibility of another interstate war in the Persian Gulf region. The first two Gulf wars — Operation Desert Storm (the 1990 campaign to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait) and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq — ended in American “victories” that unleashed virulent strains of terrorism like ISIS, uprooted millions, and unsettled the Greater Middle East in disastrous ways. The Third Gulf War — not against Iraq but Iran and its allies — will undoubtedly result in another American “victory” that could loose even more horrific forces of chaos and bloodshed.

Like the first two Gulf wars, the third could involve high-intensity clashes between an array of American forces and those of Iran, another well-armedstate. While the United States has been fighting ISIS and other terrorist entities in the Middle East and elsewhere in recent years, such warfare bears little relation to engaging a modern state determined to defend its sovereign territory with professional armed forces that have the will, if not necessarily the wherewithal, to counter major US weapons systems.

A Third Gulf War would distinguish itself from recent Middle Eastern conflicts by the geographic span of the fighting and the number of major actors that might become involved. In all likelihood, the field of battle would stretch from the shores of the Mediterranean, where Lebanon abuts Israel, to the Strait of Hormuz, where the Persian Gulf empties into the Indian Ocean. Participants could include, on one side, Iran, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and assorted Shia militias in Iraq and Yemen; and, on the other, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  If the fighting in Syria were to get out of hand, Russian forces could even become involved.

All of these forces have been equipping themselves with massive arrays of modern weaponry in recent years, ensuring that any fighting will be intense, bloody, and horrifically destructive. Iran has been acquiring an assortment of modern weapons from Russia and possesses its own substantial arms industry. It, in turn, has been supplying the Assad regime with modern arms and is suspected of shipping an array of missiles and other munitions to Hezbollah. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have long been major recipients of tens of billions of dollars of sophisticated American weaponry and President Trump has promised to supply them with so much more.

This means that, once ignited, a Third Gulf War could quickly escalate and would undoubtedly generate large numbers of civilian and military casualties, and new flows of refugees. The United States and its allies would try to quickly cripple Iran’s war-making capabilities, a task that would require multiple waves of air and missile strikes, some surely directed at facilities in densely populated areas. Iran and its allies would seek to respond by attacking high-value targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia, including cities and oil facilities. Iran’s Shia allies in Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere could be expected to launch attacks of their own on the US-led alliance. Where all this would lead, once such fighting began, is of course impossible to predict, but the history of the twenty-first century suggests that, whatever happens, it won’t follow the carefully laid plans of commanding generals (or their civilian overseers) and won’t end either expectably or well.

Precisely what kind of incident or series of events would ignite a war of this sort is similarly unpredictable.  Nonetheless, it seems obvious that the world is moving ever closer to a moment when the right (or perhaps the better word is wrong) spark could set off a chain of events leading to full-scale hostilities in the Middle East in the wake of President Trump’s recent rejection of the nuclear deal. It’s possible, for instance, to imagine a clash between Israeli and Iranian military contingents in Syria sparking such a conflict. The Iranians, it is claimed, have set up bases there both to support the Assad regime and to funnel arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. On May 10th, Israeli jets struck several such sites, following a missile barrage on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights said to have been launched by Iranian soldiers in Syria. More Israeli strikes certainly lie in our future as Iran presses its drive to establish and control a so-called land bridge through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Another possible spark could involve collisions or other incidents between American and Iranian naval vessels in the Persian Gulf, where the two navies frequently approach each other in an aggressive manner. Whatever the nature of the initial clash, rapid escalation to full-scale hostilities could occur with very little warning.

All of this begs a question: Why are the United States and its allies in the region moving ever closer to another major war in the Persian Gulf? Why now?

The Geopolitical Impulse

The first two Gulf Wars were driven, to a large extent, by the geopolitics of oil. After World War II, as the United States became increasingly dependent on imported sources of petroleum, it drew ever closer to Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer. Under the Carter Doctrine of January 1980, the US pledged for the first time to use force, if necessary, to prevent any interruption in the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to this country and its allies. Ronald Reagan, the first president to implement that doctrine, authorized the “reflagging” of Saudi and Kuwaiti oil tankers with the stars and stripes during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War that began in 1980 and their protection by the US Navy. When Iranian gunboats menaced such tankers, American vessels drove them off in incidents that represented the first actual military clashes between the US and Iran. At the time, President Reagan put the matter in no uncertain terms: “The use of the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians.”

Oil geopolitics also figured prominently in the US decision to intervene in the First Gulf War. When Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait in August 1990 and appeared poised to invade Saudi Arabia, President George H.W. Bush announced that the US would send forces to defend the kingdom and so played out the Carter Doctrine in real time. “Our country now imports nearly half the oil it consumes and could face a major threat to its economic independence,” he declared, adding that “the sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia is of vital interest to the United States.”

Although the oil dimension of US strategy was less obvious in President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, it was still there. Members of his inner circle, especially Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the safety of Persian Gulf oil lanes and needed to be eliminated. Others in the administration were eager to pursue the prospect of privatizing Iraq’s state-owned oil fields and turning them over to American oil companies (a notion that evidently stuck in Donald Trump’s mind, as he repeatedly asserted during the 2016 election campaign that “we should have kept the oil”).

Today, oil has receded, if not entirely disappeared, as a major factor in Persian Gulf geopolitics, while other issues have moved to the fore. Of greatest significance in animating the current military standoff is an escalating struggle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia (with a nuclear-armed Israel lurking in the wings). Both countries view themselves as the hub of a network of like-minded states and societies — Iran as the leader of the region’s Shia populations, Saudi Arabia of its Sunnis — and both resent any gains by the other. To complicate matters, President Trump, clearly harboring deep antipathy toward the Iranians, has chosen to side with the Saudis big league (as he might say), while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, fearing Iranian advances in the region, has opted to weigh in on the Saudi side of the equation in a major way as well. The result, as suggested by military historian Andrew Bacevich, is the “inauguration of a Saudi-American-Israeli axis” and a “major realignment of US strategic relationships.”

Several key factors explain this transition from an oil-centric strategy emphasizing military power to a more conventional struggle among regional rivals that has already deeply embroiled the planet’s last superpower. To begin with, America’s reliance on imported oil has diminished rapidly in recent years, thanks to an oil drilling revolution in the US that has allowed the massive exploitation of domestic shale reserves through the process of fracking. As a result, access to Persian Gulf supplies matters far less in Washington than it did in previous decades. In 2001, according to oil giant BP, the United States relied on imports for 61% of its net oil consumption; by 2016, that share had dropped to 37% and was still falling — and yet the US remains deeply involved in the region as a decade and a half of unending war, counterinsurgency, drone strikes, and other kinds of strife sadly indicate.

By invading and occupying Iraq in 2003, Washington also eliminated a major bulwark of Sunni power, a country led by Saddam Hussein who, two decades earlier, had been siding with the US in opposing Iran. That invasion, ironically enough, had the effect of expanding Shiite influence and making Iran the major — possibly the only — winner in the years of war that followed. Some Western analysts believe that the greatest tragedy of the invasion, from a geopolitical point of view, was the ascension of Shiite politicians with close ties to Tehran in post-Hussein Iraq. Although that country’s current leaders appear intent on pursuing a path of their own in the post-ISIS moment, many powerful Iraqi Shiite militias — including some that played key roles in driving Islamic State militants out of Mosul and other major cities — retain close ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

While disasters in themselves, the wars in Syria and Yemen have only added additional complexity to the geopolitical chessboard on which Washington found itself after that invasion and from which it has never extricated itself. In Syria, Iran has chosen to ally with Vladimir Putin’s Russia to preserve the brutal Assad regime, providing it with arms, funds, and an unknown number of advisers from the Revolutionary Guards. Hezbollah, a Shiite political group in Lebanon with a significant military wing, has sent large numbers of its own fighters to Syria to help Assad’s forces. In Yemen, the Iranians are believed to be providing arms and missile technology to the Houthis, a homegrown Shiite rebel group that now controls the northern half of the country, including the capital, Sana’a.

The Saudis, in turn, have been playing an ever more active role in bolstering their military power and protecting embattled Sunni communities throughout the region. Seeking to resist and reverse what they view as Iranian advances, they have helped arm militias of an extreme sort and evidently even al-Qaeda-associated groups under attack from Iranian-backed Shiite forces in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, in the case of Yemen, they organized a coalition of Sunni Arab states to crush the Houthi rebels in a brutal war that has included a blockade of the country, helping to produce mass famine and a relentless American-backed air campaign, which often hits civilian targets including marketsschools, and weddings. This combination has helped produce an estimated 10,000 civilian deaths and a singular humanitarian crisis in that already impoverished country.

In response to these developments, the Obama administration sought to calm the situation by negotiating a nuclear deal with the Iranians and by holding out the promise of increased economic ties with the West in return for reduced assertiveness outside its borders. Such a strategy never, however, won the support of Israel or Saudi Arabia. And in the Obama years, Washington continued to support both of those countries in a major way, including supplying massive amounts of military equipment, refueling Saudi planes in midair so they could strike deeper into Yemen, and providing the Saudis with targeting intelligence for their disastrous war.

The Anti-Iranian Triumvirate

All of these regional developments, in play before Donald Trump was elected, have only gained added momentum since then, thanks in no small degree to the pivotal personalities involved.

The first of them, of course, is President Trump. Throughout his election campaign, he regularly denounced the nuclear deal that Iran, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union all signed onto in July 2015. Officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA), the agreement forced Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program in return for the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions. It was a plan that Iran scrupulously adhered to. Although President Obama, many senior American policymakers, and most European leaders had argued that the JCPOA — whatever its flaws — provided a valuable constraint on Iran’s nuclear (and so other) ambitions, Trump consistently denounced it as a “terrible deal” because it failed to eliminate every last vestige of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure or ban that country’s missile program. “This deal was a disaster,” he told David Sanger of the New York Times in March 2016.

While Trump, who has filled his administration with Iranophobes, including his new secretary of state and new national security adviser, seems to harbor a primeval animosity toward the Iranians, perhaps because they don’t treat him with the adoration he feels he deserves, he has a soft spot for the Saudi royals, who do. In May 2017, on his first trip abroad as president, he traveled to Riyadh, where he performed a sword dance with Saudi princes and immersed himself in the sort of ostentatious displays of wealth only oil potentates can provide.

While in Riyadh, he conferred at length with then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 31-year-old son of King Salman and a key architect of Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical contest with the Iranians. Prince Mohammed, who serves as the Saudi defense minister and was named crown prince in June 2017, is the prime mover behind the kingdom’s (so far unsuccessful) drive to crush the Houthi rebels in Yemen and is known to harbor fierce anti-Iranian views.

At an earlier White House luncheon in March 2017, bin Salman, or MBS as he’s sometimes known, and President Trump seemed to reach an implicit agreement on a common strategy for branding Iran a regional threat, tearing up the nuclear agreement, and so setting the stage for an eventual war to vanquish that country or at least to fell the regime that runs it. While in Riyadh, President Trump told a conference of Sunni Arab leaders that, “from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death of America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room.”

While no doubt gratifying to the Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis, and other Sunni rulers listening, those words echoed the views of the third key player in the strategic triumvirate that may soon drive the region into all-out war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also known as “Bibi.” For years, he has railed against Iranian ambitions in the region and threatened military action against any Iranian move that would, as he saw it, impinge on Israeli security. Now, in Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince, he has the allies of his dreams. In the Obama years, Netanyahu was a fierce opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal and used a rare appearance before a joint session of Congress in March 2015 to denounce it in no uncertain terms. He has never — right up to the days before Trump withdrew from the accord — stopped working to persuade the president that the agreement should be junked and Iran targeted.

In that 2015 speech to Congress, Netanyahu laid out a vision of Iran as a systemic danger that would later be appropriated by Trump and his Saudi confederates in Riyadh. “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world,” he asserted in a typically hyperbolic statement. “Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic strait at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.”

Now, Netanyahu is playing a major role in driving the already volatile region into a war that could further destroy it, produce yet more terror groups (and terrorized civilians), and create havoc on a potentially global scale, given that both Russia and China back the Iranians.

Girding for War

Pay attention to the words of Netanyahu in Washington and Donald Trump in Riyadh. Think of them not as political rhetoric, but as prophesies of a grim kind. You’re going to be hearing a lot more such prophesies in the months ahead as the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia move closer to war with Iran and its allies. While ideology and religion will play a part in what follows, the underlying impetus is a geopolitical struggle for control of the greater Persian Gulf region, with all its riches, between two sets of countries, each determined to prevail.

No one can say with certainty when, or even if, these powerful forces will produce a devastating new war or set of wars in the Middle East. Other considerations — an unexpected flare-up on the Korean Peninsula if President Trump’s talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un end in failure, a fresh crisis with Russia, a global economic meltdown — could turn attention elsewhere, lessening the importance of the geopolitical contest in the Persian Gulf. New leadership in any of the key countries could similarly lead to a change of course. Netanyahu, for example, is now at risk of losing power because of an ongoing Israeli police investigation into allegedly corrupt acts of his, and Trump, well, who can say? Without such a development or developments, however, the way to war, which will surely prove to be the road to hell, seems open with a Third Gulf War looming on humanity’s horizon.

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MICHAEL T. KLARE

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular and the author most recently of The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (Metropolitan Books).