Climate Change: Our Greatest National Security Threat?

The climate century is upon us: the earth is warming, humans are to blame, and we must take immediate action now to prepare for climate change’s massively disruptive consequences. Indeed, both the congressionally-mandated 2018 National Climate Assessment (NCA) and United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changereports make clear that the window to take collective action to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions is shrinking. And advances in the field of climate attribution science demonstrate that climate change plays a major role in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

No longer can climate change be categorized solely as an environmental issue—it is a grave threat to national security. Indeed, it may be the threat. While there are many national security challenges facing the nation and the world, climate change is an aptly described “super wicked” problem that exacerbates and accelerates already existing threats. It is also manifestly unjust. In a cruel irony, the poorest nations of the world that contributed the least to global warming will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts. What we, as a society, choose to do (or not do) now will define the health and welfare of future generations. Their fate is increasingly shaped by climate change’s dramatic, erratic, and catastrophic national security effects.

This article explains our current predicament and offers three reasons to hope that we may yet be able to address climate security.

We must think bigger and bolder about the national security threats posed by climate change

Beyond what we can read in the best peer-reviewed climate scientific reports, we can see firsthand climate change’s massively destabilizing effects. Consider the damage to national security infrastructure at military bases this last hurricane season, costing taxpayers billions and harming military readiness.

Consider, too, climate change’s outsized impact in the Arctic region, opening up new maritime trade routes, oil and gas extraction, and the looming potential for a heavily militarized Arctic region. And what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic: permafrost and methane emissions significantly harm the environment while causing significant sea level rise throughout the world. Ice-free Arctic summers are coming soon.

How fast is the ice melting in the Arctic? If we are honest, we don’t truly know. Past estimates of warming and ice loss in the Arctic have been widely underestimated. Indeed, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that the Arctic has 3-5 degrees Celsius of warming locked inirrespective of future greenhouse gas mitigation effort. Make no mistake: we need to be prepared for a physically transformed Artic region in our lifetime, however fast the ice melts.

White House Climate Inaction Fueled by Denialism 

Yet the current Administration has stepped backwards in the face of its own government’s best peer-reviewed science, the collective wisdom of the international scientific community, and the already-evident physical destruction wrought by climate change. Unfortunately, the United States is increasingly an international climate-outlier: it has already announced its intent to withdraw from the near universally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement (that the last administration played a leading role in negotiating) and has failed to advance a meaningful domestic climate agenda. Indeed, it has effectively stepped away from the world’s climate leadership stage and has removed all mention of climate change from both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1991, then-President Bush assessed that climate change “respects no international boundaries” and contributes to political conflict in his 1991 National Security Strategy.  Climate change has been consistently mentioned in national security policy guidance since then.  Recently, the White House took the remarkable step of proposing the creation of a closed-door task force to determine the validity of the National Climate Assessment’s national security discussion.

But outside the executive branch — if you look closely enough — the climate landscape is shifting. If our political will can align with our scientific understanding, then a solution to the “super-wicked” climate security problem may just be possible. Consider the following three areas that provide hope in our fight against climate change.

  • The Intelligence Community and Military Strike Back

The intelligence and national security communities have begun to speak up louder and actively engage with the world’s most authoritative climate science reports in their own threat assessments.  Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a new, clear-eyed threat assessment report that highlighted climate change’s destabilizing effects. It stated that the “negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change will impact human security challenges, threaten public health, and lead to historic levels of human displacement.” Specifically, the ODNI report noted:

global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.  Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.

The intelligence community—composed of sober-minded, non-partisan professionals—brings enormous credibility and perspective when weighing the complex security threats facing the nation.

Further, congressional hearings on climate security continue to occur at a steady pace.  Just last week, General David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, cited the conflict in Syria as an example of how climate change’s impact is already destabilizing some nations. His remarks came two days after the commanders of U.S. European Command and U.S. Transportation Command voiced similar views before Congress.  The military has the responsibility to prepare for future threats, however defined—this includes climate change.

  • Congress Awakens

Congress, too, has slowly awoken from its climate slumber, including provisions in the yearly National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that address climate adaptation efforts within DoD. It recently required that DoD report on military installations especially vulnerable to climate change. While the details of the DoD report fell shortof expectations, it signaled congressional willingness to actively engage on this issue.  Congress also addressed climate adaptation efforts, recently placing restrictions on military construction in the riskiest floodplain areas.

Earlier this week, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel (former Senators and Secretaries of State and Defense, respectively) testified in front of the House Oversight Committee on the national security implications of climate change. We should look for more action in the climate security space as Congress holds hearings on climate change’s national security impacts and looks to include provisions in the annual DoD budget bill.

Finally, the Green New Deal – though it may not be on a fast track to becoming law – does not shy away from climate change’s security implications, explicitly stating that climate change:

constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States . . .by impacting the economic, environmental, and social stability of countries and communities around the world and by acting as a threat multiplier.

While Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation that would require the United States to meet the emission reduction goals the last administration set in joining the Paris Agreement — and the Obama-era Clean Power Plan was halted by the Supreme Court — the groundwork may be in the process of being laid for such action in the national security arena.

  • Innovative Legal Solutions to Combat Climate Change

As a general matter, most of our domestic law environmental statutes suspendenvironmental protections for reasons of national security. For example, the Clean Air Act—the major environmental statute governing EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions—authorizes the President to suspend regulation of stationary sources (such as coal-fired power plants) if it is in the “paramount interest of the United States” to do so.

But what if climate change is the underlying emergency and we needed greater authorities to decrease GHG emissions?

While there is no “break glass in case of climate emergency” statute, Congress has delegated broad powers to the President possesses in the 1976 National Emergencies Act. In the aftermath of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a border wall, commentators have begun to speculate that future Presidents could use similar legal authorities to declare climate change a national emergency. The term “emergency” is undefined in law. Moreover, there should be little debate that as a scientific matter, climate change does present an extraordinary threat to the security of the United States. There are certain authorities that could potentially be actuatedpursuant to a “climate emergency” declaration, from reducing oil drilling to restricting car emissions to investing in climate adaptation measures. While I do not argue for this approach at this time, we must begin to think innovatively about all the legal authorities available.

Internationally, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has shown a renewed willingness to discuss climate change’s multifaceted impacts on peace and security.  Under Article 39 of the UN Charter, the UNSC has special authorities to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, [or] breach of the peace.” While the UNSC has not (yet) formally declared climate change a threat to international peace and security — thereby actuating legal authorities under Chapter VI and VII — scholars have begun to assess the implications of doing so.

David Wallace-Wells, in his recent book the Uninhabitable Earth, foreshadows a world where tens of millions of climate refugees flee drought, food insecurity, and extreme weather. Yet these “climate refugees” lack legal protections, including under the 1951 Refugee Convention. How should international law account for and safeguard future refugees fleeing from the disruptive effects of climate change? And if you are a citizen of a small island developing state that may not be habitable due to climate change, what is a more pressing issue facing you?  The Security Council may yet need to step in to resolve some of these vexing questions.

Looking Ahead

Let me be clear: we need domestic climate legislation, re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement, and massive governmental investment in renewable energy technology before we actuate these innovative climate legal solutions. However, there is some good news:  we have made enormous strides in clean energy technology in recent years and climate denialism and inaction policy have helped energize the electorate. The technology is there; but the political will among our current leaders is not.

And in a twist of fate, the United States cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement until November 4, 2020—one day after the next Presidential election.  Whether climate change is on the ballot as a core issue in 2020 still remains to be seen.  But the electoral landscape, too, may be changing.  Governor Inslee of Washington is seeking the Democratic nomination based upon a climate change platform and Mayor Pete Buttigeig spoke at length about the climate security challenge in his announcement for his Presidential bid on Sunday, explicitly stating“let’s pick our heads up to face what might be the great security issue of our time, climate change and disruption.”

As I have argued before, climate change cannot be wished away and we are already paying a “do nothing” climate tax on our economy and environment. Indeed, if “we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it” we must meet the climate century head on. It’s time to get moving on climate action. If not now, when?

US Takes Illegal, Dangerous Actions Toward Regime Change in Venezuela

The United States is taking illegal and dangerous actions to execute regime change in Venezuela. In January, Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president,” in a strategy orchestrated by the United States to seize power from President Nicolás Maduro.

In March, Guaidó announced that “Operation Freedom,” an organization established to overthrow the Maduro government, would take certain “tactical actions” beginning on April 6. Part of the plan anticipates that the Venezuelan military will turn against Maduro.

This strategy is detailed in a 75-page regime change manual prepared by the U.S. Global Development Lab, a branch of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The manual advocates the creation of rapid expeditionary development teams to partner with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces to conduct “a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations [in] in extremis conditions.”

Some of these actions will, in all likelihood, involve combat operations. A USAID official said, “Anybody who doesn’t think we need to be working in combat elements or working with SF [special forces] groups is just naïve.”

The manual was written by members of Frontier Design Group (FDG), a national security contractor whose “work has focused on the wicked and sometimes overlapping problem sets of fragility, violent extremism, terrorism, civil war, and insurgency,” according to its mission statement. FDG was the “sole contractor” that USAID hired to write a “new counterinsurgency doctrine for the Trump administration,” Tim Shorrock wrote at Washington Babylon.

Guaidó is funded by USAID’s sister organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, which is notorious for meddling in other countries and putting a good face on the CIA’s dirty business, as the late journalist William Blum explained.

Writing in Salon, Medea Benjamin and Nicolás J. S. Davies cited Blum’s statement that the United States generally opts for “low-intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. They noted that “’low-intensity conflict’ involves four tools of regime change: sanctions or economic warfare; propaganda or ‘information warfare’; covert and proxy war; and aerial bombardment. In Venezuela,” they added, “the U.S. has used the first and second, with the third and fourth now ‘on the table’ since the first two have created chaos but so far not toppled the government.”

Indeed, a combination of punishing sanctions imposed by the United States and blackouts exploited if not engineered by the U.S. have been unsuccessful in removing Maduro and installing Guaidó.

U.S. Sanctions Intensify Suffering of Venezuelan People

The Venezuelan economy was in dire straits before the Trump administration imposed harsher sanctions in January.

Crude oil production in Venezuela fell by 142,000 barrels a day in February, according to OPEC. “This shows that the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in January had an immediate, very harsh impact on Venezuela’s economy, and on the general population, which depends on the export revenue from oil for essential imports including medicine, food, medical equipment, and other life-saving necessities,” Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, stated.

If this drop in oil production continues at the same rate, Venezuela stands to lose more than $2.5 billion in oil revenues during the next year. The U.S.-imposed sanctions will speed that decline.

On April 4, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Human Rights Watch issued a 71-page report documenting food and medicine shortages and sharp increases in disease throughout Venezuela. They characterize the situation as a humanitarian emergency and recommend a full-scale response by the United Nations secretary general.

U.S. Misuses Humanitarian Aid as a “Political Weapon”

Guaidó’s opposition “plans to use aid as their chief political weapon,” according to The New York Times.

Although in February, the United States tried to deliver humanitarian assistance to Venezuela though Colombia, Maduro refused to accept it.

“The U.S. misuse of ‘humanitarian assistance’ as a cover for smuggling weapons and other non ‘humanitarian’ items also has a long history” in Latin American countries, Alfred De Zayas, former UN special rapporteur in Venezuela, said in an interview with AntiDiplomatico. De Zayas called out the United States for its hypocritical policy: “It is not possible to be a major cause of the economic crisis — having imposed … sanctions, financial blockades and economic war — and then mutating into a good Samaritan.”

The U.S. government’s cynical strategy is to increase the suffering of the Venezuelan people, in hopes they will rise up against Maduro. This flawed approach was used by the Eisenhower administration after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. It was based on a State Department memo that proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Fidel Castro] government.” The U.S. economic blockade against Cuba continues to hurt the people but they have not overthrown their government.

At the end of March, the Venezuelan government and the opposition agreed that the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies would establish a global relief campaign for humanitarian aid.

Venezuela has asked for and received assistance from the United Nations, Russia, China, Turkey, India and Cuba, De Zayas reported, “but that was humanitarian and offered in good faith and without strings attached. U.S. aid is the ‘fruit of the poison tree.’”

On April 3, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who has helped lead the charge for regime change in Venezuela, introduced a 76-page bill in the Senate that would approve $400 million in assistance to Venezuela and take steps to facilitate regime change. It would assess “the declining cohesion inside the Venezuelan military and security forces and the Maduro regime,” and “describe the factors that would accelerate the decision making of individuals to break with the Maduro regime” and recognize Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.

The Rubio bill would also require briefing on “the full extent of cooperation by” Russia, China, Cuba and Iran with the Maduro government.

U.S. Opposes Russia-Venezuela Cooperation

At the end of March, the Russian government sent 100 troops to Venezuela. Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “Russian specialists … arrived in accordance with the clauses of a bilateral agreement on technical-military cooperation.”

In early April, Russia announced plans to install a training facility for military helicopters in Venezuela. The Trump administration is rattling its sabers at Russia. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned that the United States considers the presence of military forces from outside the Western Hemisphere a “direct threat to international peace and security in the region.”

Russia, however, denies that its military presence in Venezuela poses a military threat. “The Russian side did not violate anything: neither the international agreements nor Venezuelan laws,” according to Zakharova.

Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza cited the hypocrisy of U.S. policy. He said it is “such cynicism that a country with more than 800 military bases around the world, much of them in Latin America, and a growing military budget of more than US$700 billion, intends to interfere with the military-technical cooperation program between Russia and Venezuela.”

In late March, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill called the “Russian-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act” to gauge Russia’s influence in Venezuela. It aims to devise a strategy “to counter threats … from Russian-Venezuelan cooperation.” The bill also requires assessment of “national security risks posed by potential Russian acquisition of CITGO’s United States energy infrastructure holdings.”

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, an organization of former intelligence officers and other national security practitioners, wrote in a memo to Donald Trump, “Your Administration’s policies regarding Venezuela appear to be on a slippery slope that could take us toward war in Venezuela and military confrontation with Russia.”

The U.S. government has also threatened Cuba for its support of Venezuela. Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration would take “strong action not only to isolate Venezuela but also we’re looking at strong action against Cuba.” On April 5, Pence announced that the United States is imposing sanctions on two companies that deliver Venezuelan crude oil to Cuba. And, egged on by Rubio, Trump is considering extending the economic blockade against Cuba.

Forcible Regime Change Is Illegal

The United Nations Charter prohibits the use or threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another nation. Likewise, the Charter of the Organization of American States forbids any country from intervening in the external affairs of another nation. And the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to self-determination.

Idriss Jazairy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of sanctions, said, “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state.”

In mid-March, nearly 40 organizations, including CODEPINK, American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, Just Foreign Policy and VoteVets, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging support for the bipartisan measure, H.R. 1004 – “Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act.” The groups called it “a critical safeguard against unconstitutional U.S. military action.”

H.R. 1004 “prohibits funds made available to federal departments or agencies from being used to introduce the Armed Forces of the United States into hostilities with Venezuela, except pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) a specific statutory authorization that meets the requirements of the War Powers Resolution and is enacted after the enactment of this bill, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States or the Armed Forces.”

It is imperative that Congress invoke the War Powers Resolution, passed in the wake of the Vietnam War, to prevent the president from escalating the dangerous U.S. economic and military aggression against Venezuela. On April 4, for the first time since its enactment, Congress used the War Powers Resolution to end unauthorized U.S. military involvement in Yemen.

BP lobbied Trump administration to roll back key Obama era climate rules

An investigation by Unearthed has revealed that the oil and gas major BP successfully lobbied the Trump administration to roll back key climate regulations preventing methane emissions, despite claiming publicly to support the Paris Agreement. Both directly and through influential trade associations, BP first opposed and then helped reverse rules that would have restricted the deliberate venting and flaring of methane on federal lands, and also that would have required more frequent equipment inspections to detect methane leaks. At least 1.7m tonnes of methane could be released into the atmosphere over the next seven years as a result of the rollbacks, says Unearthed, equivalent to 58m tonnes of CO2. In public, BP “has portrayed itself as an energy major at the forefront of a global campaign to reduce methane emissions from operations to combat climate change”, notes the Financial Times. While not responding directly to Unearthed, a BP spokesperson tells the FT that the company has “consistently advocated for regulation of methane emissions by one federal agency — the Environmental Protection Agency — rather than an inefficient patchwork of different federal or state agencies”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that BP is set to launch a new “very low sulphur fuel oil” ahead of a ban on more polluting fuels for the shipping industry that comes into force next year.

In other US news, Reuters reports that the White House is proposing eliminating a tax credit worth up to $7,500 (~£5,700) on the purchase of new electric vehicles. In its proposed “budget for a better America”, the Office of Management and Budget says the move would save the US government $2.5bn over a decade. The 2020 budget also proposes a 31% cut for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reports the Hill, a 13% cut for the National Science Foundation and a 2.3% cut for Nasa, reports the Washington Post. The budget aims to cut domestic spending by 5% overall, notes another piece in the Hill. In a statement, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler says: “This common sense budget proposal would support the agency as it continues to work with states, tribes and local governments to protect human health and the environment.” The proposed budget is “highly unlikely to become law”, says Reuters, after it was “immediately panned by Democrats”

Trump approvingly tweets quote expressing skepticism about climate change

Trump approvingly tweets quote expressing skepticism about climate change
© UPI Photo

President Trump on Tuesday shared a quote from a “Fox & Friends” guest who denied that climate change was caused by humans or that it is a threat.

Trump tweeted out comments from Patrick Moore, the former co-founder of environmental group Greenpeace, who described the climate crisis as “fake news” and “fake science.”

“The whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science. There is no climate crisis, there’s weather and climate all around the world, and in fact carbon dioxide is the main building block of all life,” Trump quoted Moore as saying on “Fox & Friends.”

“Wow!” Trump added in sharing the quote.

Moore was critical of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the Green New Deal she has promoted to combat climate change, calling it a “silly plan.”

“Yes of course climate change is real. It’s been happening since the beginning of time. But it’s not dangerous, and it’s not made by people,” he said, calling it a “perfectly natural phenomenon.”

Greenpeace offered a statement to Fox News pushing back against Moore, who left the group decades ago. The statement was read on air.

“Moore does not represent Greenpeace. His statements have nothing to do with Greenpeace’s positions,” the group said, offering praise for the Green New Deal.

Trump has long cast doubt on the existence and effects of climate change. The president late last year downplayed a government report on the subject, telling reporters that he doesn’t believe its warnings about the economic impacts of climate change.

He has previously suggested it’s a hoax invented by the Chinese and has cited winter storms to push back on the idea of global warming.

Scientists have noted that there is a difference between weather and climate and that cold weather does not dispel the existence of long-term climate change. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record by average temperature.

Trump’s not stable—and that should be a huge news story

President Donald Trump hugs the American flag as he arrives to speak at Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md., Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

If over the weekend you saw a rambling madman give a frighteningly incoherent, sweaty, two-hour shoutfest of a speech at a right-wing summit, then you viewed a president coming unglued on national television in a way that has probably never been seen before in United States history. And that is extraordinary cause for alarm.

But if, instead, you saw nothing more than a “fiery” Donald Trump give a “zigzagging,” “wide-ranging,” “campaign-like” address where the Republican really “let loose,” then you likely work for the D.C. press, which once again swung and missed when it came to detailing the escalating threat that Trump represents to the country.

Specifically, newsrooms today nearly uniformly refuse to address the mounting, obvious signs that Trump is a deeply unstable man, as the CPAC meltdown so obviously demonstrated. Most reporters simply do not want to mention it. “In most ways, it was just another campaign rally for the president, in flavor, content, and punchlines,” the Daily Beast reported, summing up Trump’s CPAC calamity. In other words: Nothing to see here, folks.

That was typical of CPAC coverage. “Trump derides Mueller probe, mocks Democrats and his former attorney general,” the Washington Post headline announced. The accompanying article didn’t include even the slightest hint that Trump’s speech was a flashing neon-red sign of a man teetering on the edge. That is a bionic-level attempt to normalize Trump and his CPAC disaster, where he referred to 2020 Democratic candidates as “maniacs,” suggested they “hate their country,” and accused the Democratic Party of supporting “extreme late-term abortion.”

That wasn’t just some “long-winded” or “rambling” speech. That was pure insanity, and the fact that a sitting president unleashed such a bizarre performance, punctuated by so many incomprehensible non sequiturs, means his stability and capacity ought to be questioned—and it ought to be a pressing news story.

Trump Walks Away From North Korea Nuclear Talks

A historic summit to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula ended without an agreement Thursday, after talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fell apart. Their second summit meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, failed after Kim Jong Un demanded that the U.S. lift all sanctions on North Korea in exchange for dismantling the Yongbyon enrichment facility — an important North Korean nuclear site. We speak with Christine Ahn, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War.


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Hanoi, Vietnam, where talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un came to an abrupt end Thursday, after the leaders failed to reach a denuclearization agreement. Their second summit meeting fell apart over Kim Jong-un’s demand the U.S. lift all sanctions on North Korea. This is President Trump speaking at a news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I could have done a deal today, but it would have been a deal that wouldn’t have been a deal that—it would have been something that I wouldn’t have been happy about, Mike would not have been happy about. We had some pretty big options, but we just felt it wasn’t appropriate. And we really want to do it right.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump said Kim had demanded sanctions be lifted in exchange for dismantling the Yongbyon enrichment facility, an important North Korean nuclear site. During the news press conference, Trump was questioned by David Sanger of The New York Times.

DAVID SANGER: So, can you just give us a little more detail? Did you get into the question of actually dismantling the Yongbyon complex?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I did. Yes, absolutely.

DAVID SANGER: And does he seem willing, ultimately—


DAVID SANGER: —to take all of that out?


DAVID SANGER: He does? He just wants all the sanctions off first, before—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He would do that, but he wants the sanctions for that. And as you know, there’s plenty left after that. And I just felt it wasn’t good. Mike and I spent a long time negotiating and talking about it to ourselves. And just I felt that that particular—as you know, that facility, while very big, it wasn’t enough to do what we were doing.

DAVID SANGER: So he was willing to do Yongbyon, but you wanted more than that, I assume, including—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We had a have more than that, yeah. We had to have more than that—

DAVID SANGER: And so, you needed both—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —because there are other things that you haven’t talked about, that you haven’t written about, that we found and we have to have, that was done a long time ago but the people didn’t know about.

DAVID SANGER: Including the uranium—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we brought—yeah.

DAVID SANGER: Including the second uranium enrichment plant.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Exactly. And we brought many, many points up that I think they were surprised that we knew. But we had to do more than just the one level, because if we did the one level and we gave up all of that leverage, that’s been—taken a long time to build—

DAVID SANGER: So, he was—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I want to take—by the way—

DAVID SANGER: He was not willing to take out that second—that second—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: David, I want to take off the sanctions so badly, because I want that country to grow. That country has got such potential. But they have to give up more. We could have done that deal.

AMY GOODMAN: The working lunch was canceled between the two leaders. The summit’s collapse comes just days after House Democrats introduced a resolution to end the Korean War, after nearly 70 years of conflict. Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna, who introduced the resolution, said in a statement, “Historic engagement between South and North Korea has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to formally end this war. … President Trump must not squander this rare chance for peace,” he said.

Well, for more, we turn to Christine Ahn, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War. She’s in Hanoi, Vietnam, for the summit.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Christine. Can you respond to the collapse of the summit?

CHRISTINE AHN: Hi, Amy. Well, it’s obviously a very sad day for 80 million Korean people around the world, especially on the peninsula, as we’ve been long waiting—67 years—for the U.S. and North Korea to declare an end to the Korean War. And many people, many pundits, many—I think President Moon—were expecting a breakthrough today, you know, including things such as the establishment of opening liaison offices in Washington and in Pyongyang. So, the sudden decision to cut short the meeting, to basically shut down the talks, and—it came as a sudden surprise. And the mood, which started out celebratory, was soon overshadowed by the sudden decision and the announcement that Trump made, that North Korea was demanding the full lifting of sanctions.

And so, I mean, I want to first start by saying we don’t know what the full picture is. And, in fact, there have been now some reports coming out, especially from South Korea, the former minister of unification is suggesting that Bolton—of course—I mean, once we saw the picture of the table and we saw Pompeo and we saw Bolton, I mean, we had to—that was a red flag that something was going to be derailed. And so, what we understand from the South Korean side is that Bolton was insisting that biological and chemical weapons were to be part of the package. And so North Korea obviously shifted their position and called for full lifting of sanctions.

So, we don’t know what the full picture is. We obviously have to hear from the North Korean side. But I wouldn’t just quickly, you know, take Trump’s line that North Korea was asking for something that is—was unreasonable, because, clearly, a lot of work had been done. I think Stephen Biegun, who is the special representative and envoy, clearly spent a lot of time. He gave a speech at Stanford a few weeks ago. It was perhaps one of the most thoughtful, comprehensive understanding of the situation, and it seemed as if we were on the brink of a diplomatic breakthrough.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to President Trump speaking earlier today.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The inspections on North Korea will take place and will, if we do something with them—we have a schedule set up that is very good. We know things that—as David was asking about, certain places and certain sites. There are sites that people don’t know about, that we know about. We would be able to do inspections, we think, very, very successfully.

AMY GOODMAN: Interesting, Christine. President Trump was not extremely critical of the North Korean leader. He was not being defiant. He got some help from Sean Hannity, who was in the audience, almost reminding him, saying something along the lines of, “President Trump, you know, of course, President Reagan walked away at Reykjavík, and that was just a strategy,” he said. But your thoughts on where you think this will head, President Trump saying maybe they’ll meet again soon, or maybe it will be a very long time from now?

CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I mean, there are two things that give me hope in this current moment. One is, I mean, actually, the rapport, if you actually see the rapport that Trump and Kim have established. I mean, you need the leaders of the two countries to have good rapport. And clearly there is something there.

And, you know, the fact that Trump said two things in his press conference really surprised me. One was, he put a dollar bill, the amount, a price tag, on the U.S. war drills. He said they cost $100 million. It’s a huge waste of money. The other thing he said was that the sanctions harm the people of North Korea and that he wouldn’t be adding more new sanctions. I think that’s a great outcome. It’s a great foundation. But we need to continue to build on it. We need to push for it.

The other thing that obviously gives me hope is that the peace—the historic peace that’s taking place between North and South Korea. The Korean people want an end to this Korean War. Nine out of 10 South Koreans want a declaration to the end of the war. They have made tremendous progress.

So, one of the key outcomes that we were hoping for was the lifting of sanctions, that are definitely getting in the way of inter-Korean economic progress. And so, I think that we have to take it to the International Court. We have to take it to the world of public opinion. Sanctions is not some kind of sterile thing. This is something that is having a daily impact on the lives of North Korean people. Sixty thousand North Korean children can starve as a result of sanctions. We’ve heard the special rapporteur on human rights say that the sanctions are impacting the day-to-day life of North Korean people.

You know, this is not just a game of politics. This is a game of people’s lives. This is not a game. And I think that there’s an urgency, not just for the people that are living in North Korea, but think about the people of the Korean Peninsula, where they have lived for 70 years of a constant threat of war breaking out, intentionally or accidentally. This is not a game. And this is a moment where the international community must put pressure, whether at the U.N. level, and put pressure on the countries that have been siding with the United States, and say, “This is enough. This is enough.” Korea wants peace. And the international community has a responsibility to support it.

AMY GOODMAN: Christine Ahn, can you talk about the role of South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, in facilitating the North Korea-U.S. negotiations?

CHRISTINE AHN: I mean, he’s been absolutely essential. And the good news is that Trump asked his support after he left today, that he really wanted his support in, you know, continuing to play this facilitating role. But, you know, we would not be in this place were it not the incredibly effective diplomacy by President Moon.

And, you know, we have to take a hard look at what is a true alliance. And is it alliance of the military? Is it alliance of the corporations? Or is it alliance of the people? And if the people of South Korea are asking the American people to support this historic peace, that won’t happen for another lifetime—and the stars are aligned right now. And so, I speak with—you know, having worked on this issue for most of my adult life. We are not going to have this opportunity.

And so that’s why another thing that gives me hope is that Congressman Ro Khanna, Andy Kim, the first Korean-American Democrat, and several women congresswomen, including Barbara Lee, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jan Schakowsky—they have all stepped forward to introduce this congressional resolution calling for an end to the Korean War and urging the president to establish a process towards the signing of a peace agreement. We’re not going to get to denuclearization, we’re not going to get to the improvement of human rights, until we get to peace. And, you know, declaring an end to the Korean War was going to be a first step, but it’s not enough. It’s not a legally a binding agreement. And we need to push for this.

And as I wrote in an op-ed with Gloria Steinem in The Washington Post, the Korean War is America’s oldest war. It inaugurated the military-industrial complex. It set forth the U.S. foreign policy to be the world’s military police. I don’t think Americans want that anymore. And we have this historic opportunity to end America’s oldest war.

We have a U.S. Congress that is the most representative ever of the American population, and we have the greatest number of women in Congress right now. This is the moment now to push for this war. It’s not just a symbolic thing. But think about—I live in Hawaii, where there’s the U.S. Pacific Command. Think about how much is invested in preparation for war with North Korea. Clearly, there’s China behind that. But think about what we can do. We’ll never be able to achieve the bold vision for Medicare for all or free college tuition or New Green Deal, unless we tackle the $700 billion budget that is currently being invested. And North Korea is the greatest—allegedly the greatest U.S. foreign policy challenge.

We have a golden opportunity. The Korean people want peace. It’s time for the American people to stand up with them and urge the president. And if not, and if President Trump is not movable, then we have to try the U.S. government, and that’s where Congress has a role to play, not just to authorize war, but they have a role to declare peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Christine Ahn, you were among hundreds of women who wrote a letter jointly to Donald Trump and to Kim Jong-un, calling for peace and saying peace women should be at the table. Can you explain?

CHRISTINE AHN: Absolutely. I mean, I think right now the fragility of the talks shows that we have to democratize this process. We can’t leave it just in the hands of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. It needs to have—it’s not just a war, a 70-year war, between the leaders of the two countries. We have had generations of propaganda. We’ve always seen North Korea through a prism of war. And we need to have people-to-people engagement. That is what’s going to bring genuine peace.

And we know that when women are included in the peace process, it leads to a peace agreement—and not just a peace agreement, but a really durable one. And when half the world’s population isn’t part of shaping a peace agreement that reflects the desire of half the world’s population, it’s not going to, obviously, be a just and sustainable one. So we’re demanding that there is a process that includes civil society and that includes women’s rights groups, because we have seen the record. In 40 conflicts around the world, in all but one case, when women’s groups were involved in the peace process, it led to a peace agreement. And we want to see denuclearization. We want to see peace. We want to see the improvement of human rights. We’ll never get there, until there is a true peace, until war is taken off the table.

AMY GOODMAN: Christine, finally, I want to ask about Otto Warmbier, the American student who was imprisoned for more than 17 months for trying to steal a propaganda sign in a North Korean hotel, died in June 2017, a week after he was released from a North Korean prison and returned to the U.S. in a coma. When Trump was asked if he discussed Warmbier with Kim Jong-un at the Hanoi news conference, Trump said, quote, “He tells me he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word. Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places, and bad things happen. But I don’t believe he knew about it,” he said. Your response?

CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I believe that it’s very possible that Kim Jong-un wouldn’t know and that perhaps those that were overseeing Otto Warmbier’s condition didn’t know what to do, when—you know, if—what they’re saying is that he fell into a coma and that they didn’t have the proper medical ability to treat him.

But what we do know is that when he returned, when his body was returned back to the United States, the doctor that received him conducted—like basically did a full examination. And she basically held a press conference, after the Warmbiers did, and said, “I examined his body, and this is not the sign of—there wasn’t torture. In fact, you know, for his condition, he was actually—he was very well taken care of.” And that, unfortunately—there was a really great piece—I think it was in GQ, because the author couldn’t find another publication, but people should read that. It’s an incredibly insightful view into the complexity of what took place. But I think that’s a really important point that is obscured in the media and definitely hidden, is that the doctor that received him said—had a completely different narrative about the condition when he returned to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Although, of course, there was the question—

CHRISTINE AHN: I mean, it is a tragic situation. And—

AMY GOODMAN: There was the question of why he was held at all, for that length of time.

CHRISTINE AHN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, it’s an absurd thing. North Korea should have released him. There was no reason to do that. But I think, you know, it’s back to the issue of North Korea, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula is one of a state of war. And North Korea is a garrison state. It is in a siege mentality. And if we want to see progress towards that, isolating them, doing aggressive military exercises, you know, conducting sanctions that prevent the development of the economy—I mean, we look at the U.N. Security Council sanctions, for example. You know, it bans exports of textiles. I mean, who do you think works of these textile factories, but women? And so, we know that when women have access to the resources, when they control the purse, that the conditions of their families and their communities improve. So, how are we not seeing this broader geopolitical context of the conditions in North Korea? We have to say we have some culpability in this.

AMY GOODMAN: Christine Ahn, I want to thank you very much for being with us, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War, speaking to us from Hanoi, Vietnam, where the U.S.-North Korea summit has broken down. President Trump has left. But we will continue, of course, to cover this story. And we’ll link to the joint letter to both leaders from hundreds of women around the world calling for an end to the Korean War.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, highlights from the testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday of Michael Cohen. Stay with us.

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.

Trump Forgot to mention Climate Change…

…in his State of the Union speech last night, but he did boast about this:

Energy production

CLAIM: The United States is now the #1 producer of oil and natural gas in the world.

FACTS: This is accurate. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-Term Energy Outlook from September, the United States became the number one crude oil producer in the world last year. U.S. crude oil production exceeded that of Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than two decades in February 2018, and surpassed Russia in June and August 2018 for the first time since February 1999. The U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia to become the top petroleum producer in 2013, and has continued to hold to that trend. The United States has been the number one producer of natural gas since 2009, when it surpassed Russia to claim the top rank.

— Sara Cook


Nuclear Threat Grows as US Prepares to Withdraw From INF Treaty

With the US poised to begin its withdrawal from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on February 2, there’s been an uptick in media focus on arms control and the nuclear weapons, even as the US public remains largely disengaged.

The INF treaty, signed by the US and Soviet Union in 1987, led to the elimination of nuclear and non-nuclear ground-launched ballistic and cruises missiles with a range of roughly 310 to 3,410 miles (500 to 5,500 km). Since 2013, however, the US has accused Russia of violating the treaty at least 30 times, pointing to Russia’s SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile as posing “significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.” Meanwhile, Russia denies violating the INF.

In December, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an ultimatum: the US would “suspend [treaty] obligations” in 60 days if Russian compliance could not be verified.

“Russia’s lawless conduct,” Pompeo warned, “will not be tolerated in the realm of arms control or anywhere else.”

Pompeo also expressed concern that INF non-compliant weapons (China, North Korea and Iran are not INF signatories) were being used to “threaten and coerce the United States and its allies in Asia.”

Russia counters that rocket launchers used by the Aegis Ashore system at a US naval base in Romania and slated for deployment in Poland and Japan could be used offensively and are in breach of the INF, charges flatly rejected by the United States.

With the INF teetering on the brink of collapse, many wonder if the New START treaty, which President Donald Trump called “one sided” and a “bad deal” will be the next to fall. In 2017, Trump told Reuters, “if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

INF’s demise comes as nuclear weapons arsenals are being “modernized,” non-nuclear weapons development is accelerating, and concerns of system vulnerability are on the rise. Arms control experts and world leaders worry that without INF, new weapons development could accelerate and expand.

In Honolulu, the East-West Center, a non-partisan educational institution, hosted an international gathering of visiting nuclear arms researchers, academics and reporters three days before the one-year anniversary of a ballistic missile warning scare that terrified many residents in Hawaii on January 13, 2018.

One of the speakers, David Santoro, director and senior fellow for nuclear policy at the Pacific Forum, said, “I think it’s very clear now that … the nuclear problem is coming back with a vengeance.”

“For a very long time we thought that this was a thing of the past — something we had to deal with during the Cold War,” Santoro said.

He warned that if the US withdraws from INF, extending the New STARTtreaty will be much more difficult, adding, “We have to extend New START by 2021, otherwise arms control between the US and Russia is gone.”

The Gloves Are Off

Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, said that as the US and China compete vigorously in the areas of security and economics, “We’ve even seen this competition intensify to the point where the gloves seem to be off,” he said, pointing to a shift under the Trump administration by characterizing China not as a partner-competitor, but as an unambiguous adversary. He also pointed to a bolder stance by Chinese President Xi Jinping in calling for an end to US strategic pre-eminence in global governance.

Roy said the US shouldn’t take for granted what he called China’s “minimal deterrent posture” which he described as being limited to second strike capability not developed to intimidate the US.

Roy suggested the US should avoid policy steps that would “provoke China into trying to compete as vigorously in the area of numbers of nuclear weapons as China competes with the United States in lots of other areas.”

China still has a relatively low number of nuclear weapons (less than 300) compared with both the US and Russia, each with well over 6,000. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), nine nations maintain more than 14,400 nuclear weapons.

“I think we are going to see increasing competition in other areas which will impact the nuclear relationship between [China and the US],” Santoro added. “There are a number of flashpoints that we need to worry about increasingly today,” pointing to Taiwan and the South China Sea as two examples.

According to Santoro, the nuclear weapons climate has become more complicated as what was once a “two-player game” has morphed into a “multi-player game.” He points to “severe nuclear competition” between India and Pakistan threatening potentially negative consequences for China’s defense strategy, which in turn affects the US-Russia nuclear relationship.

Santoro also mentioned the standoff between the US, NATO and Russia over the 2014 annexation of Crimea where, according to hacked European diplomatic cables reported by The New York Times, Russia is suspected of housing nuclear weapons.

For a country like North Korea, which is in a militarily weaker position than not just the US, but South Korea too, Santoro said nuclear weapons are “almost irresistibly desirable,” noting that from North Korea’s perspective, nuclear weapons are the one thing that ensures its survival.

“No other conventional capability or political arrangement can do it,” Santoro said. “They have seen what has happened to Iraq [and] Libya and constantly mention these cases as evidence that they need the ‘magic’ of nuclear weapons.”

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

On January 24, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board announced the “Doomsday Clock” would remain at two minutes to midnight in 2019, a reflection that concerns go well beyond nuclear weapons.

Newly manufactured US low-yield “mini nukes,” precision-guided munitions, AI-enabled fully autonomous weapons, advanced cruise missiles, and the spread of sophisticated (but potentially vulnerable) missile defense systems around the world, and expanding into space and cyber domains come into play in the nuclear realm. Meanwhile, Russia, China and the US are pursuing their own hypersonic weapons.

On January 17, when the Trump administration unveiled its Missile Defense Review (video), Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan delivered a stark warning about the defense capabilities of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran saying, “These threats are harder to see, harder to track, and harder to defeat.” Speaking directly to the four countries, he said, “We see what you are doing and we’re taking action.”

That action includes investing in ground and sea-based missile defenses with more interceptors, new kill vehicles, and improved coverage of priority regions like the Indo-Pacific. Shanahan, a former Boeing senior vice president of supply chain and operations, said, “We are focused on new capabilities for new threats,” referring to hypersonic weapons, space-based sensors and directed energy for boost phase missile intercept.

He went on to say the Missile Defense Review “includes a policy shift towards greater integration of offensive and defensive capabilities because missile defense necessarily includes missile offense” [italics added].

Cascading Crises

Today, with the speed of communications, an accident in judgment based on intentionally leaked or false information that spreads quickly through open sources like social media could easily create a situation that has cascading effects.

Jaclyn Kerr, an affiliate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, expressed alarm about this risk while speaking to a group of journalists at the East-West Center, asking:

What if these effects have repercussions that cause catastrophe-type-level events that weren’t expected, like critical infrastructure damage — something was an implant in a network but it goes awry and leads to something actually failing and loss of life. But there’s no way to assess whether that was intentional or not, and that leads to a military attack in a different domain, conventional or otherwise, and it spirals out of control and nobody trusts the information coming from the other side because it’s an environment of disinformation.

She imagines new types of escalation dynamics not seen before.

For example, imagine a message sent in error (or intentionally) warning that New Delhi or Islamabad was moments away from a nuclear attack. The warning time for missiles launched between India and Pakistanwould be much shorter than the 20-30 minutes it would take for an ICBM to travel between Eurasia and North America.

Imagine a head of state who is irrational, impetuous and prone to making critical decisions based on cable television news and social media posts being “triggered” by a widely circulated (but unconfirmed) report of a spike in radiation coinciding with a seismic event in Ukraine, or an incident in the South China Sea, or the Taiwan Straits or the Baltic Sea. Or the Persian Gulf. Or Kashmir….

All of these scenarios and countless other mundane, but more likely events, such as a compromised weapons, energy, or other critical system, underscore the threats we face in 2019.

Faster, Smaller and More Complex

Andrew Futter, associate professor of International Politics at University of Leicester, looks at nuclear and conventional weapons and worries what could go wrong and how complexity can undermine safety.

“It worries me when I hear about modernization programs … the comingling of nuclear and conventional weapons,” Futter said, warning about the outcomes of technology driving human behavior, rather than the opposite. “Just because we can build things, doesn’t necessarily mean we should,” he said.

Most nuclear weapons states, Futter noted, prioritize being able to use the weapons over keeping them safe, and with weapons on a permanent state of high alert and closely linked to warning systems, it creates a context where accidents may occur.

“We’re living in a nuclear climate where we have less and less time to do most things and we still have a lot of systems that are very tightly coupled between warning and use,” Futter said.

The January 2018 Hawaii ballistic missile scare, Futter contends, was merely a continuation of something that has gone on for a long time, citing a history of nuclear scares. The difference was, he suggested, that today identifying and diagnosing errors with potentially catastrophic results requires doing so in much smaller, more complex, faster-moving digitized systems.

This growth of newer, faster, more complicated systems, the modernization of nuclear and conventional weapons, and the deterioration of arms-control treaties like the INF, stand in sharp contrast to the low level of awareness of the threats by the American public, which is largely ignorant about nuclear issues, according to Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Wellerstein, creator of the popular Nuke Map, an online authoritative tool that offers a visual simulation of how a nuclear detonations of varying sizes would impact anywhere in the world, said, “Americans’ perceptions of nuclear threats have just been continuously going down.” One reason for this, he suggested, is a lack of nuclear weapons coverage outside of specialized news sources other than in times of crisis.

“There are a lot of nuclear threats out there. They don’t just occur during crisis periods and yet, the American approach to these things in the general public is, ‘Oh my god, crisis period — I care about it!” followed immediately by, “Oh good, we don’t have to think about it anymore again (until the next crisis period),” he said.

Others have expressed similar concerns, noting the lack of inclusion of nuclear weapons-related issues in American public education and the media.

Wellerstein pointed out that, owing in part to a decades-old aura of secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons, many people have a sense they aren’t well-informed on nuclear issues, with some Americans admitting they deliberately avoid nuclear weapons-related news.

In a world where nuclear issues are rapidly evolving, Wellerstein said he expects that “in a few years people are going to be in a whole new world without realizing it, and I think it’s going to be a rude shock when that finally hits home.”

Mourning Armageddon

In Hawaii, where the January 13, 2018, ballistic missile warning scare is still fresh in people’s minds, many recalled the event on the one-year anniversary, but quickly turned their attention elsewhere. One Oahu resident, a musician named Makana, saw the false alarm as an opportunity to reflect on the broader threat of nuclear war. While on a goodwill tour to Russia last October, he performed in school, clubs and elsewhere in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

During the tour he attended a meeting at the Russian Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry just as Trump was announcing plans to withdraw from the INF treaty. Makana recalled one Russian general thundering, “End of INF treaty! This is very bad!” Recounting the incident, Makana described how, in his own naiveté, he replied, “I have an idea. We should make a BFF treaty,” to which Russians who understood the reference (“Best Friends Forever”) broke into laughter.

On the same visit, Makana visited a recently declassified Russian foreign ministry nuclear bunker. One hundred sixty feet below central Moscow, the bomb shelter was dark and eerie but, Makana noticed, had excellent acoustics.

On the spot, the musician created and recorded a song about the threat of nuclear war, releasing it as a video entitled Mourning Armageddon on the anniversary of the Hawaii missile alert scare.

At the end of the video, Makana cranks a hand-held air raid siren in the dim light. Pausing, he surveys the grim, tomb-like surroundings, breathes a heavy sigh, and says, “It’s a time machine to a place I hope never materializes.”

Trump warns Midwest about frigid temps, asks global warming to ‘please come back fast’

President Donald Trump on Monday mocked climate scientists as he jokingly pleaded for global warming to “come back fast, we need you!” while warning the Midwest of impending freezing temperatures.

“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder,” Trump tweeted Monday evening. “People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!”


It was not the first instance where the president mocked global warming. Amid freezing temperatures last year, Trump tweeted: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

Trump’s Monday tweet comes ahead of winter storms that are expected to hit the Upper Midwest and part of the Deep South and Northeast by midweek, making travel conditions treacherous.

On Tuesday, more than 1,000 flights were canceled or delayed in anticipation of the dangerous conditions.

The National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said that parts of southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin could see over a foot of snow. The winter storm will then bring upwards of a foot of snow to Michigan before targeting the Northeast overnight Monday into Tuesday.

Rain and snow will develop along an arctic front associated with the storm over parts of the Ohio Valley stretching into the Lower Mississippi Valley on Monday, according to the NWS.

The snow and rain will move eastward by Tuesday afternoon, affecting cities such as Birmingham, Atlanta and Nashville.

“A dangerous week of cold air and travel conditions are coming up,” Fox News Senior Meteorologist Janice Dean said Monday. “Snow and ice will coat even the Deep South Tuesday through Wednesday, which will make travel incredibly difficult and possibly crippling.”


Winter storm warnings and advisories were posted stretching from Mississippi stretching up through Tennessee into West Virginia.

The storm system is associated with an arctic front that is responsible for a cold air outbreak associated with the polar vortex that will bring bone-chilling cold to the Midwest.

Temperatures on Wednesday could fall to 30 degrees below zero, and could feel as cold as 60 degrees below zero because of the wind chill.

“Some of the coldest air in decades will pour in across the Northern Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes with windchills in the negative-40 to negative-50 degree range and air temperatures below zero for several days,” Dean said. “This will be dangerous and potentially deadly for these regions, and people need to stay inside.”

Fox News’ Travis Fedschun and the Associated Press contributed to this report.