The tentative transit, first reported by CNN, was not unusual or designed to send any particular new signal, as the U.S. Navy typically conducts eight or nine such movements per year, the person said.
But after new fighting erupted in Eastern Europe between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists, officials decided not to undertake the transit to avoid needlessly escalating the situation, the person said.
Naval movements are frequently subject to change due to maintenance or shifting operational plans, the person said. This particular transit was scrapped due to a “myriad” of reasons, including a desire not to provoke Moscow during a delicate time, the person said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in an interview with NTV TV that the U.S. had notified Turkey on Wednesday that the ships would not be heading to the Black Sea. Reuters first reported that the movement was called off, quoting diplomatic sources who, like Çavuşoğlu, did not provide a specific reason.
The Pentagon has declined to discuss the possible transit since the reports first surfaced. “We routinely operate and conduct operations in the Black Sea and throughout the European Command [area of operations],” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters last week. “And as you also know, I’m not going to forecast or speak about hypotheticals or about future operations.”
The ships, the USS Donald Cook and the USS Roosevelt, are in the Mediterranean Sea conducting maritime security operations, the person said. They were still a few days from the Black Sea when the decision was made to scrap the transit, so they were not forced to abruptly reverse course.
But some in Kyiv were disappointed that the destroyers would not be traveling to the Black Sea after all, said a former senior Ukrainian official. The show of force from the U.S. in the region would have been welcomed as Russia continues to amass thousands of troops at the eastern Ukrainian border, this person said.
Ukrainian officials are also tracking Russian movements suggesting a buildup along the Kerch Strait Bridge to Crimea. The strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, and officials are wary of Russia moving to block access to the Black Sea and link its mainland to Crimea.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday that Russia announced it would be closing part of the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait for foreign warships until October, under the pretense of conducting military exercises. A spokesperson said Russia’s actions violate international law and reiterated that Ukraine “has the right to regulate shipping in these waters of the Black Sea.”
U.S. officials note that President Joe Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and recently approved an additional $125 million worth of lethal aid to help the country defend its borders, including two armed patrol boats and counter-artillery radar.
And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday during a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the organization has increased its military presence in the Black Sea region, including with additional air policing and naval presence.
“We are committed to assisting Ukraine with its self-defense needs,” he said.
Still, the situation is escalating quickly: Russia has sent more than 85,000 troops to the border in recent weeks, and at least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since late last month amid a spike in violence in the Donbass region. Ukrainian government forces have been battling Russia-backed separatists there since 2014.
The G-7 foreign ministers — representing Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union — condemned Russia’s buildup on Ukraine’s borders in a Monday statement, saying they were “deeply concerned” by the move.
“These large-scale troop movements, without prior notification, represent threatening and destabilising activities,” they wrote. “We call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions in line with its international obligations.”
Meanwhile, Pentagon leaders have been eyeing the Russian military buildup along the border with Ukraine as well as increased Russian activity at sea and in the air.
The commander of U.S. forces in Europe on Thursday predicted there is a “low to medium” likelihood that Russia will invade Ukraine over the next several weeks.
Gen. Tod Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, gave the terse assessment during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on military posture on the continent.
“It is of great concern and our vigilance is high,” the four-star general testified, noting sizable upticks in Russian ground, air and maritime forces.
Pressed on whether the threat of a Russian invasion would increase or decrease outside of the coming few weeks, however, Wolters suggested the threat of an incident could subside given the trends his command observes.
“It depends … on the disposition of the forces,” Wolters said. “My sense is, with the trend that I see right now, the likelihood of an occurrence will start to wane.”
Michael Pillsbury, Director for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, joined ‘America’s Newsroom’ to weigh in on China ‘aggressive’ impact, calling it a ‘dangerous situation that the Biden team is very much aware of.’
“The Chinese, in their comments on the Biden administration, say that there are two factions, there’s kind of a continuity with President Trump group that wants to be tough or even tougher on China. But there’s also a softer group that wants to cooperate, work together on climate change,” said the author of “Hundred Year Marathon.”
Pillsbury explained further that China notices the “split” within the Biden administration, adding that he’s worried about China’s “saber-rattling about Taiwan.”
Pillsbury reacted to a piece by the Wall Street Journal detailing China’s message toward the United States that they are “equal.” The piece titled, “China’s Message to America: We’re An Equal Now” goes in-depth on China’s plans to challenge the United States as the “global leader.”
“As Biden administration officials expected in their first meeting with Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi, Mr. Xi’s top foreign-policy aide, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked them to roll back Trump-era policies targeting China. Beijing wanted to restore the kind of recurring “dialogue” Washington sees as a waste of time, say U.S. and Chinese officials briefed on the Alaska meeting,” the piece says.
The piece went on to say, “Mr. Yang also delivered a surprise: a 16-minute lecture about America’s racial problems and democratic failings. The objective, say Chinese officials, was to make clear that Beijing sees itself as an equal of the U.S. He also warned Washington against challenging China over a mission Beijing views as sacred—the eventual reunification with Taiwan.”
Pillsbury said that though a “global world order” was set up by the United States in 1945, the Russians and Chinese want to challenge that world order.
“This is a strange challenge coming from these two powers. And when they bring in Iran, I mean, Iran is the source of their oil and gas. It’s got a lot of money to buy weapons. They see it as the main way to tie down the Americans in the Middle East.”
Pillsbury concluded, “So we’re heading into troubled waters.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said Sunday on Fox News that China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are the “new axis of evil” and that the communist regime in Beijing is “testing the Biden administration.”
Moscow — Russia warned the United States on Tuesday against sending warships to the Black Sea, urging American forces to stay away from the annexed Crimean peninsula “for their own good” as the situation along Ukraine’s border caused increasing concern in the West. The U.S. Secretary of State, meeting with Ukrainian and NATO officials in Brussels, made it clear that the Biden administration, along with its allies in Europe, has Ukraine’s back and considers Russia’s ongoing military buildup in the region “very provocative.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Washington had informed Ankara that two U.S. warships would pass through Turkish waters this week to be deployed in the Black Sea. The deployment would come amid a significant escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine’s forces, which have U.S. and European support.
Hostilities first flared in 2014 when Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea — a peninsula that sticks out into the Black Sea and is home to a Russian navy base — away from Ukraine, drawing condemnation from the Western world and a series of sanctions.
“There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores,” Ryabkov said, warning there was a very high risk of unspecified incidents if U.S. military hardware were to be positioned in the Black Sea.
“We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying. “It will be for their own good.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined during a regular press briefing on Friday to confirm the Turkish government’s statement that U.S. warships were being sent to the Black Sea. He noted that the U.S. “routinely” operates in the Black Sea, but said he wouldn’t “speak to operations.”
The current escalation has added strain to already tense U.S.-Russian relations. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia against aggressive actions in an interview aired over the weekend, saying any aggression in Ukraine would have consequences.
Ryabkov responded on Tuesday, accusing the Russian “adversary” of trying to undermine Russia’s position on the international stage. He reiterated Russia’s readiness to defend the interests of its citizens, and ethnic Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was preparing itself in the event any new sanctions should be imposed on Moscow by the U.S. or its global partners.
Meanwhile, Russia has continued to move forces into both Crimea and the region along its border with Ukraine. The Defense Ministry reported on Tuesday that 15 warships and vessels of the Caspian Flotilla had been sent to the Black Sea as part of previously announced military exercises.
Ukraine said earlier this week that Russia had already massed more than 40,000 troops along its border, and at least 40,000 more in Crimea. Russia says the troop buildup is part of exercises, and has stressed that its forces will go where they want, when they want on Russian territory.WATCH MOREWill Mitt Romney challenge Trumpfor president?SKIP AD
“Very provocative action”
Top U.S. officials are in Europe this week, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Blinken. Austin announced during a stop in Germany on Tuesday that the U.S. was going to deploy an additional 500 troops to that country.
When asked if the move was meant as a message to Russia, he said it was “a sign to NATO” of the U.S. commitment to the transatlantic alliance, and of the firm commitment to Germany. Under President Donald Trump, Washington said it would withdraw thousands of the American forces who’ve been stationed in Germany for decades. That decision was suspended by the Biden administration, and now the force is set to grow.
Blinken, meanwhile, was in Brussels, meeting NATO partners, and he met separately with his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss the standoff with Russia.
“The United States stands firmly behind the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and I’m her to reaffirm that with the foreign minister today,” Blinken said. “That’s particularly important in a time when we’re seeing, unfortunately, Russia take very provocative action when it comes to Ukraine. We’re now seeing the largest concentration of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border since 2014. That is a big concern not only to Ukraine, but to the United States and indeed to many of our allies and partners.”
Sitting across from him, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russian buildup was “taking place not only along the border of Ukraine, but along the border of the democratic world. For thousands of kilometers to the north and to the east of our border with Russia, there is no democracy. So, this is the struggle that is taking place between democracies and authoritarianism, and in this struggle the support of the United States is absolutely crucial, and deeply appreciated.”
Kuleba thanked NATO, also, and said that warnings already conveyed to Moscow through diplomatic channels, “will be supported by actions that make it very clear for Russia that the price of further aggression against Ukraine will be too heavy for it to bear.”
While no NATO deployments have been confirmed, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed the alliance was planning to position 40,000 more troops and 15,000 pieces of military equipment close to Russian territory. He didn’t elaborate, but said that “in response to the military activity of the alliance that threatens Russia, we have taken appropriate measures.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier on Tuesday that he was “seriously concerned” by Russia’s deployment of additional forces to the Ukrainian border.
“Russia is now trying to reestablish some kind of sphere of influence where they try to decide what neighbors can do,” Stoltenberg said.
CBSNews.com’s Tucker Reals contributed to this report.
Russia and China are moving into ever closer alliance. While there is no evidence of direct collusion over Ukraine and Taiwan, presidents Putin and Xi are doubtless fully aware of each other’s actions, which have an identical, mutually reinforcing effect: putting the wind up Joe Biden’s untested US administration.
What’s now unfolding could be portrayed as the ultimate fulfilment of George Orwell’s nightmarish vision, in his dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, of a world divided geographically, politically and militarily into three rival super-states: Oceania (North America plus Britain), Eurasia (Russia and Europe), and Eastasia (China).
Publication of Orwell’s book in 1949 coincided with the formation of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) and the emergence of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union as a nuclear-armed power. It also saw the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong. Yet these were early days.
Orwell’s prediction of an endless, three-way global confrontation proved premature. China needed time to develop. The Soviet Union eventually imploded. The US, declaring a unipolar moment, claimed victory. Yet today, by some measures, Orwell’s tripartite world is finally coming into being. 2021 is the new 1984.
This is where truly global danger lies – in the hazy gap between words and deeds in the intensifying trilateral struggle between superpowers
Advocates of a multipolar world will say this is too simplistic, and that the strategic balance is more subtle and complex. Tell that to people in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and occupied Crimea, who face a deeply unsubtle Russian military build-up along the “line of contact”.
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The consensus among analysts is that Putin is not about to invade. So what is he up to? Apologists suggest he was provoked by a Ukrainian decree last month declaring the re-taking of Crimea, seized by Russia in 2014, to be an official government objective – and by renewed talk of Ukraine joining Nato.
A more banal explanation is that Moscow is pressurising Kiev to break the stalemate in the so-called Minsk peace process – after the latest Donbas ceasefire collapsed. Putin enjoyed a big, but fleeting, ratings boost after Crimea’s annexation. Last month, he used a lavish televised rally marking its seventh anniversary to recapture lost popularity.
It seems he failed. Russians are preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic (and the incompetent official response), falling incomes, and a worsening socio-economic outlook. More than ever, Putin’s Soviet empire restoration project appears irrelevant, especially to younger people.
Putin is under fire at home from supporters of the much-persecuted opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, and over corruption allegations. Only 32% of Russians trust their president, according to a recent Levada Center poll. Seen this way, the Ukraine build-up looks like a calculated distraction for domestic political purposes.
Yet Putin may also be deliberately testing US and European resolve. He will not have forgotten how George W Bush pledged undying support to Georgia’s newly democratic government in 2005, then ducked out when war erupted with Russia in 2008.
As analyst Ted Galen Carpenter noted last week, Biden’s White House has likewise affirmed “unwavering US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea”. This looks, at best, like a hostage to fortune, and at worst, a cruel deception.
“The parallels between Washington’s excessive encouragement of Ukraine and Bush’s blunder with respect to Georgia are eerie and alarming,” Carpenter wrote. The US and Nato would no more go to war with Russia over eastern Ukraine than they would to save South Ossetia, he suggested. And if they did, well, that’s world war three right there.
This is where truly global danger lies – in the hazy gap between words and deeds in the intensifying trilateral struggle between superpowers. Will Putin, goaded by Biden’s “killer” insult and numerous intractable disputes, call the US president’s bluff? On the other side of the world, will Xi?
China’s surly leader looks like a man prone to brooding. He has suffered many slights at the hands of the west, including accusations of genocide in Xinjiang, brutality in Hong Kong, and aggression in the seas around China. What drives him now as his forces besiege Taiwan?
One answer is that Xi may also hope to divert attention from domestic problems. Maybe he faces unseen challenges within China’s communist party. More probably, he would like to mark July’s centenary of the founding of the CCP by finally conquering what was the last redoubt of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists.
Taiwan reunification would seal Xi’s legacy. Ever closer personal, strategic and military ties with Putin’s Russia mean that he would face no pushback from that quarter, and some applause. The Taiwanese vow to fight, but cannot prevail alone. Only the Americans really stand in his way.
Is Xi simply trolling the Washington proles? Or will he defy them and make a move on Taiwan soon? The Orwellian nightmare for Biden and the west would be a simultaneous Russian invasion of Ukraine and a Chinese attack on Taiwan.
Oceania’s choice: a war on two fronts, or humiliation all round. Welcome to Winston’s world.
(CNN)Russia is amassing unprecedented military might in the Arctic and testing its newest weapons in a region freshly ice-free due to the climate emergency, in a bid to secure its northern coast and open up a key shipping route from Asia to Europe.Weapons experts and Western officials have expressed particular concern about one Russian ‘super-weapon,’ the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo. Development of the torpedo is moving fast with Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting an update on a “key stage” of the tests in February from his defense minister Sergei Shoigu, with further tests planned this year, according to multiple reports in state media.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a law that will allow him to run for two more terms once his current one ends in 2024.
As reported by The Guardian, the law could potentially allow Putin, 68, to remain in office until 2036. He has been the de facto political leader of Russia since 2000.
The Guardian notes that should Putin stay in power until 2036, he would be the longest running leader of Russia since the Russian Empire, surpassing the tenure of dictator Joseph Stalin, who remained in power over the Soviet Union for 29 years.
Putin would be 84 years old when he left office should he decide to run for the two additional terms he is now allowed.
Putin is currently on his fourth term as president of Russia, being elected to office in 2000, 2004, 2012 and 2018, with a stint as Russian prime minister between 2008 and 2012 due to term limits at the time.
The law limits Russian citizens to two terms as president in their lifetime, though the legislation essentially serves as “reset” and does not apply to Putin’s four previous terms.
The Guardian reports that signing this legislation may not be an indication of the Russian leader’s desire to stay in power and may instead be a move to avoid a lame-duck presidency and a power struggle in his last term in office.
The new law also provides Putin and former President Dmitry Medvedev with lifetime immunity from prosecution.
During the March 23-24 meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) council, Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, encouraged NATO members to join the U.S. in viewing China as an economic and security threat to the U.S. as well as to NATO countries, thereby expanding NATO’s areas of focus to include the Pacific. This is a dangerous move that must be challenged.
To gain insight into what transpired at the March NATO meeting, we can look to a roadmap for NATO’s future, which was released last fall. The report, entitled “NATO 2030: United for a New Era,” is intended to be a guide for the military alliance in meeting the challenges it will face in the next decade. In the report, released in November, the “independent group” of five advisers from 10 NATO countries identified 13 challenges and threats to NATO in the next decade.
This new proposed roadmap for NATO reflects an alarming expansion: It is as much about China and the Asia/Pacific region as it is about NATO’s traditional area of operations and concern, Europe and Russia.
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Although the group identified the number one threat to NATO as Russia, China was named as threat number 2.
The document brings the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the Pacific and attempts to provide a justification to expand and strengthen “partnerships” in the Asia/Pacific region. NATO already has four “partners” in the Pacific through bilateral agreements with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. As NATO partners, Australia and New Zealand have deployed many troops under the NATO banner in Afghanistan, while Japan and South Korea have had reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the United States, NATO’s mega-member, has military bases all over the Pacific, including in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Guam, Singapore and Hawaii that are used by NATO “partners” during regional war drills.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken, in his address on March 24 to NATO members, strongly rebuked China and urged NATO allies to join with the U.S. in this adversarial position.
Blinken said the U.S. wouldn’t force its European allies into an “us-or-them choice,” but he then implied the opposite, emphasizing that Washington views China as an economic and security threat, particularly in technology, to NATO allies in Europe.
“When one of us is coerced we should respond as allies and work together to reduce our vulnerability by insuring our economies are more integrated with each other,” Blinken said.
Blinken cited China’s militarization of the South China Sea, use of predatory economics, intellectual property theft and human rights abuses.China has a total of 13 military bases worldwide. For perspective, the United States has over 800 military bases around the world.
In his March 24 press conference after the meetings of the North Atlantic Council and after U.S. Secretary of State Blinken’s statement, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg focused on primarily on Russia but echoed Blinken’s oppositional rhetoric regarding China. While saying “We don’t regard China as an adversary,” Stoltenberg nevertheless continued to spell out specific reasons NATO agrees with the U.S.: “The rise of China has direct consequences to our security…. So, one of the challenges we face as we now have this forward looking process with NATO 2030 is how to strengthen and how to work more closely together as allies, responding to the rise of China.”
NATO’s concerns about Chinese military expansion include the construction of nine naval bases on atolls in the South China Sea and an increasing number of ships: China now has the largest navy in the world, with 350 ships and submarines, including over 130 ships. In comparison, the U.S. Navy has 293 ships as of early 2020, but U.S. naval ships have substantially more firepower than Chinese Navy ships.
While China’s military budget has increased dramatically in the past decade, it still amounts to only one-third of the military budget of the U.S. and is very small compared to the combined military budgets of NATO members and partners.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2019 estimates show the U.S. military budget of $732 billion is 38 percent of global military expenditures, while China’s $ 261 billion is 14 percent and Russia’s military budget of $61 billion is 3.4 percent. Six of the 15 highest military global spenders are members of NATO: the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K., Italy and Canada. Together, these six accounted for 48 percent ($929 billion) of global military expenditure. Total spending by all 29 NATO members was $1035 billion in 2019.This new proposed roadmap for NATO reflects an alarming expansion: It is as much about China and the Asia/Pacific region as it is about NATO’s traditional area of operation.
China has a total of 13 military bases worldwide, including the 9 on atolls in the South China Sea. For perspective, the United States has over 800 military bases around the world.
Meanwhile, NATO is also raising alarm about China’s economic Belt and Road Initiative, which includes a “belt” of overland road and rail corridors and a maritime “road” of shipping lanes and ports.
NATO Members Increase Military Presence to Counter “Threat” From China
The groundwork has already been laid for NATO’s expansion into Asia: The dominant and continued presence of the United States in the Pacific has given NATO a permanent foothold in the region. The Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia” was a NATO stepping-stone for increased military actions in the region.
For many years, NATO countries have participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s largest naval exercise held every two years in Hawaii. In 2020, the COVID-modified RIMPAC had ships from 25 countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam. China participated in the 2014 RIMPAC with four ships and in 2016, but was disinvited in 2018 due to its military activities in the South China Sea.
The United Kingdom and France have increased their presence in the Indo-Pacific. At the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018, French and British defense ministers announced they would sail warships through the South China Sea to challenge China’s military expansion. The Shangri-La Dialogue is a security forum attended by defense ministers and military chiefs of 28 Asia-Pacific states and is named for the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore where it has been held since 2002.
Subsequently, the United Kingdom deployed the HMS Albion to conduct freedom of navigation exercises near the Paracel Islands in August 2018 and conducted its first joint exercise with the United States in the South China Sea in 2019. NATO member France has exclusive economic zones in the Pacific around its overseas territories and in February 2021, France conducted a patrol through the South China Sea with a nuclear attack submarine and two other navy ships as a part of its freedom of navigation exercises.
Additionally, the U.S. military is already reorienting much of its military equipment and war maneuvers to the Pacific. The U.S. Army’s longstanding massive land maneuvers “Defender” exercises in Europe will be in the Pacific in 2021. Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps is reorganizing its forces in the Pacific to be “fast moving counterweights to China’s growing navy fleet.”
NATO’s new strategy in the Pacific is for Marines, as well as small Army units, to operate in “littoral operations or operations around shorelines from the islands around the Western Pacific in small units with ship-killing missiles.” The Corps is testing missiles fired from these smaller vehicles, which according to the Marine Corps, will “make it incredibly hard for the enemy to find us. … We will have dozens and dozens and dozens of these platoons and vehicles placed strategically throughout the region.”
In 2021, Hawaii will become the home of the Marine Corps’s first Marine Littoral Regiment, with initial operating capability in 2023. The Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment will be composed of 1,800- 2,000 Marines from the 3rd Marine Regiment at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, which has about 3,400 Marines.
Currently, the Marines have two regiments on Okinawa and one in Hawaii. In the next two years, the new strategy calls for one littoral regiment each on Okinawa, Hawaii and Guam.
The new strategy not only redesigns units but is also redesigning the sea transportation to move the forces around the Pacific. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Light Amphibious Warship, a proposed new class of Navy vessel, will be between 200 and 400 feet long and cost $100 million. The Navy wants to have 28 to 30 of these amphibious ships, which will have the capability to pull up onto beaches. How many ships would be based in Hawaii, Guam and Okinawa remains unclear, as is where they would practice beach landings in the islands, which will be watched closely by local environmental activists.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is building new bases in the Pacific. In 2020, the president of Palau, a small Pacific island nation of a population of only 17,000, offered his country as a new base of operations for the U.S. military in the Pacific. The U.S. has already constructed a runway and has increased the number of U.S. Navy ships using Palau’s ports. The Trump administration quickly sent the secretary of defense and secretary of the navy to consolidate the agreement. Palau already receives extensive funding from the U.S. through an economic and defense agreement called the Compact of Free Association.
U.S. military operations from other Pacific islands have increased in recent years. U.S. nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and their accompanying escorts of 10 ships and B-2 nuclear-equipped bombers operate daily from the U.S. territory of Guam on “freedom of navigation” sea drills and overflights of Taiwan, Okinawa, Japan and South Korea.
The Chinese military has responded with its own naval drills in the South China Sea and air armadas of 18 aircraft flying to the edge of Taiwan’s air defense zone during the Trump administration’s increased diplomatic engagement and military sales to Taiwan, an island the People’s Republic of China (PRC) considers as a renegade province of the PRC.
The level of air and sea confrontation in the Western Pacific between the U.S. and NATO forces and China has increased dangerously over the past two years, and it’s only a matter of time until an accident or purposeful incident presents a potential war incident that can lead to horrific consequences.
As NATO advisors name China as the number two threat to the organization after Russia, the U.S. top diplomat echoes their rallying call as the U.S. military ramps up its forces in the Pacific region. These worrisome developments suggest the U.S. will continue to play a leading role in pushing NATO to train its sights on China, which will heighten the dangerous confrontation in the Western Pacific.
President Joe Biden’s domestic policies, especially on the economic front, are quite encouraging, offering plenty of hope for a better future. The same, however, cannot be said about the administration’s foreign policy agenda, as Noam Chomsky’s penetrating insights and astute analysis reveal in this exclusive interview for Truthout. Chomsky is a world-famous public intellectual, Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona.
C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, two months after being in the White House, Biden’s foreign policy agenda is beginning to take shape. What are the signs so far of how the Biden administration intends to address the challenges to U.S. hegemony posed by its primary geopolitical rivals, namely Russia and China?
Noam Chomsky: The challenge to U.S. hegemony posed by Russia and particularly China has been a major theme of foreign policy discourse for some time, with persistent agreement on the severity of the threat.
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The matter is plainly complex. It’s a good rule of thumb to cast a skeptical eye when there is general agreement on some complex issue. This is no exception.
What we generally find, I think, is that Russia and China sometimes deter U.S. actions to enforce its global hegemony in regions on their periphery that are of particular concern to them. One can ask whether they are justified in seeking to limit overwhelming U.S. power in this way, but that is a long distance from the way the challenge is commonly understood: as an effort to displace the U.S. global role in sustaining a liberal rule-based international order by new centers of hegemonic power.
Do Russia and China actually challenge U.S. hegemony in the ways commonly understood?
Russia is not a major actor in the world scene, apart from the military force that is a (very dangerous) residue of its earlier status as a second superpower. It does not begin to compare with the U.S. in outreach and influence.
China has undergone spectacular economic growth, but it is still far from approaching U.S. power in just about any dimension. It remains a relatively poor country, ranked 85th in the UN Human Development Index, between Brazil and Ecuador. The U.S., while not ranked near the top because of its poor social welfare record, is far above China. In military strength and global outreach (bases, forces in active combat), there is no comparison. U.S.-based multinationals have about half of world wealth and are first (sometimes second) in just about every category. China is far behind. China also faces serious internal problems (ecological, demographic, political). The U.S., in contrast, has internal and security advantages unmatched anywhere.
Take sanctions, a major instrument of world power for one country on Earth: the U.S. They are, furthermore, third-party sanctions. Disobey them, and you’re out of luck. You can be tossed out of the world financial system, or worse. It’s pretty much the same wherever we look.
If we look at history, we find regular echoes of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s 1947 advice to the president that he should “scare hell out of the American people” if he wanted to whip them up to a frenzy of fear over the Russian threat to take over the world. It would be necessary to be “clearer than truth,” as explained by Dean Acheson, one of the creators of the postwar order. He was referring to NSC-68 of 1950, a founding document of the Cold War, declassified decades later. Its rhetoric continues to resound in one or another form, again today about China.
NSC-68 called for a huge military build-up and imposition of discipline on our dangerously free society so that we can defend ourselves from the “slave state” with its “implacable purpose… to eliminate the challenge of freedom” everywhere, establishing “total power over all men [and] absolute authority over the rest of the world.” And so on, in an impressive flow.
China does confront U.S. power — in the South China Sea, not the Atlantic or Pacific. There is an economic challenge as well. In some areas, China is a world leader, notably renewable energy, where it is far ahead of other countries in both scale and quality. It is also the world’s manufacturing base, though profits go mostly elsewhere, to managers like Taiwan’s Foxconn or investors in Apple, which is increasingly reliant on intellectual property rights — the exorbitant patent rights that are a core part of the highly protectionist “free trade” agreements.
China’s global influence is surely expanding in investment, commerce, takeover of facilities (such as management of Israel’s major port). That influence is likely to expand if it moves forward with provision of vaccines virtually at cost in comparison with the West’s hoarding of vaccines and its impeding of distribution of a “People’s Vaccine” so as to protect corporate patents and profits. China is also advancing substantially in high technology, much to the consternation of the U.S., which is seeking to impede its development.
It is rather odd to regard all of this as a challenge to U.S. hegemony.
U.S. policy might help create a more serious challenge by confrontational and hostile acts that drive Russia and China closer together in reaction. That has, in fact, been happening, under Trump and in Biden’s first days — though Biden did respond to Russia’s call for renewing the New START Treaty on limiting nuclear weapons at the last minute, salvaging the one major element of the arms control regime that had escaped Trump’s wrecking ball.U.S. policy might help create a more serious challenge by confrontational and hostile acts that drive Russia and China closer together in reaction.
Clearly what is needed is diplomacy and negotiations on contested matters, and real cooperation on such crucial issues as global warming, arms control, future pandemics — all very severe crises that know no borders. Whether Biden’s hawkish foreign policy team will have the wisdom to move in these directions is, for now, at best unclear — at worst, frightening. Absent significant popular pressures, prospects do not look good.
Another issue that calls for popular attention and activism is the policy of protecting hegemony by seeking to harm potential rivals, very publicly in the case of China, but elsewhere too, sometimes in ways that are sometimes hard to believe.
to mitigate efforts by states, including Cuba, Venezuela and Russia, who are working to increase their influence in the region to the detriment of U.S. safety and security. OGA coordinated with other U.S. government agencies to strengthen diplomatic ties and offer technical and humanitarian assistance to dissuade countries in the region from accepting aid from these ill-intentioned states. Examples include using OGA’s Health Attaché office to persuade Brazil to reject the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, and offering CDC technical assistance in lieu of Panama accepting an offer of Cuban doctors. [Emphasis mine].
In the midst of a raging pandemic, according to this report, we must block malignant initiatives to help miserable victims.
Under President Jair Bolsonaro’s grotesque mismanagement, Brazil has become the global horror story of failure to deal with the pandemic, despite its outstanding health institutes and fine past record in vaccination and treatment. It is suffering from a severe shortage of vaccines, so the U.S. takes pride in its efforts to prevent it from using the Russian vaccine, which Western authorities recognize to be comparable to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines used here.
Even more astonishing, as the author of this article in the EU-based Brasil Wire comments, is “that the US dissuaded Panama from accepting Cuban doctors, who have been on the global front line against the pandemic, working in over 40 countries.” We must protect Panama from the “malign influence” of the one country in the world to exhibit the kind of internationalism that is needed to save the world from disaster, a crime that must be stopped by the global hegemon.
Washington’s hysterical dedication to crush Cuba from almost the first days of its independence in 1959 is one of the most extraordinary phenomena of modern history, but still, the level of petty sadism is a constant surprise
With regards to Iran, also there do not seem to be signs of hope as the Biden administration has named Richard Nephew, an architect of sadistic sanctions against Iran under Barack Obama, as its deputy Iran envoy. Right or wrong?
Biden adopted Trump’s Iran program with virtually no change, even in rhetoric. It is worthwhile to recall the facts.
Trump withdrew U.S. participation in the JCPOA (the nuclear agreement), in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2331, which obligates all states to abide by the JCPOA, and in violation to the wishes of all other signers. In an impressive display of hegemonic power, when the UN Security Council members insisted on abiding by 2331 and not extending UN sanctions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told them to get lost: You are renewing the sanctions. Trump imposed extremely harsh new sanctions to which others are obliged to conform, with the goal of causing maximum pain to Iranians so that perhaps the government might relent and accept his demand that the JCPOA be replaced by a new agreement that imposes much harsher restrictions on Iran. The pandemic offered new opportunities to torture Iranians by depriving them of desperately needed relief.
Furthermore, it is Iran’s responsibility to take the first steps towards negotiations to capitulate to the demands, by terminating actions it took in reaction to Trump’s criminality.Biden adopted Trump’s Iran program with virtually no change, even in rhetoric.
As we’ve discussed before, there is merit in Trump’s demand that the JCPOA can be improved. A far better solution is to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone (or WMD-free zone) in the Middle East. There is only one barrier: the U.S. will not permit it, and vetoes the proposal when it arises in international forums, most recently seen by President Obama. The reason is well-understood: It’s necessary to protect Israel’s major nuclear arsenal from inspection. The U.S. does not even formally acknowledge its existence. To do so would prejudice the vast flood of U.S. aid to Israel, arguably in violation of U.S. law, a door that neither political party wants to open. It’s another topic that will not even be discussed unless popular pressure makes suppression impossible.
In U.S. discourse, Trump is criticized because his policy of torturing Iranians didn’t succeed in bringing the government to capitulate. The stance is reminiscent of Obama’s highly praised moves towards limited relations with Cuba, because, as he explained, we need new tactics after our efforts to bring democracy to Cuba had failed — namely, a vicious terrorist war that led almost to extinction in the 1962 missile crisis and sanctions of unparalleled cruelty that are unanimously condemned by the UN General Assembly (Israel excepted). Similarly, our wars in Indochina, the worst crimes since World War II, are criticized as a “failure,” as is the invasion of Iraq, a textbook example of the “supreme international crime” for which Nazi war criminals were hanged.
These are among the prerogatives of a true hegemon, immune to the cackles of foreigners and confident in the support of those whom an acerbic critic once called “the herd of independent minds,” the bulk of the educated classes and the political class.
Biden took over the entire Trump program, without any change. And to twist the knife further, he appointed Richard Nephew as deputy Iran envoy. Nephew has explained his views in his book Art of Sanctions, where he outlines the proper “strategy to carefully, methodically, and efficiently increase pain on areas that are vulnerabilities while avoiding those that are not.” Just the right choice for the policy of torturing Iranians because the government that most of them despise will not bend to Washington’s demands.
U.S. government policy towards Cuba and Iran provides very valuable insight into how the world works under the domination of imperial power.
Cuba since independence in 1959 has been the target of unremitting U.S. violence and torture, reaching truly sadistic levels — with scarcely a word of protest in elite sectors. The U.S., fortunately, is an unusually free country, so we have access to declassified records explaining the ferocity of the efforts to punish Cubans. Fidel Castro’s crime, the State Department explained in the early years, is its “successful defiance” of U.S. policy since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which declared Washington’s right to control the hemisphere. Plainly harsh measures are required to stifle such efforts, as any Mafia Don would understand — and the analogy of world order to the Mafia has considerable merit.U.S. government policy towards Cuba and Iran provides very valuable insight into how the world works under the domination of imperial power.
Much the same is true of Iran since 1979, when a popular uprising overthrew the tyrant installed by the U.S. in a military coup that rid the country of its parliamentary regime. Israel had enjoyed very close relations with Iran during the years of the Shah’s tyranny and extreme human rights violations, and like the U.S., was appalled by his overthrow. Israel’s de facto Ambassador to Iran, Uri Lubrani, expressed his “strong” belief that the uprising could be suppressed, and the Shah restored “by a very relatively small force, determined, ruthless, cruel. I mean the men who would lead that force will have to be emotionally geared to the possibility that they would have to kill ten thousand people.”
U.S. authorities pretty much agreed. President Carter sent NATO Gen. Robert E. Huyser to Iran to try to convince the Iranian military to undertake the task — a surmise confirmed by recently released internal documents. They refused, considering it hopeless. Shortly after, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran — an attack that killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, with full support from the Reagan administration, even when Saddam resorted to chemical weapons, first against Iranians, then against Iraqi Kurds in the Halabja atrocities. Reagan protected his friend Hussein by attributing the crimes to Iran and blocking congressional censure. He then turned to direct military support for Hussein with naval forces in the Gulf. One vessel, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in a clearly marked commercial airspace, killing 290 people, returning to a royal welcome at its home base where the commander and flight officer who had directed the destruction of the airliner were rewarded with Medals of Honor.
Recognizing that it could not fight the U.S., Iran effectively capitulated. Washington then to turned harsh sanctions against Iran, while rewarding Hussein in ways that sharply increased threats to Iran, which was then just emerging from a devastating war. President Bush I invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in nuclear weapons production, no small matter for Iran. He pushed through agricultural aid that Hussein badly needed after having destroyed rich agricultural areas with his chemical weapons attack against Iraqi Kurds. He sent a high-level mission to Iraq headed by the Republican Senate leader Bob Dole, later presidential candidate, to deliver his respects to Hussein, to assure him that critical comment about him would be curbed on Voice of America, and to advise Hussein that he should ignore critical comment in the press, which the U.S. government can’t prevent.
This was April 1990. A few months later, Hussein disobeyed (or misunderstood) orders and invaded Kuwait. Then everything changed.
Almost everything. Punishment of Iraq for its “successful defiance” continued, with harsh sanctions, and new initiatives by President Bill Clinton, who issued executive orders and signed congressional legislation sanctioning investment in Iran’s oil sector, the basis of its economy. Europe objected, but had no way to avoid U.S. extraterritorial sanctions.
U.S. firms suffered too. Princeton University Middle East specialist Seyed Hossein Mousavian, former spokesman for Iran nuclear negotiators, reports that Iran had offered a billion-dollar contract to the U.S. energy firm Conoco. Clinton’s intervention, blocking the deal, closed off an opportunity for reconciliation, one of many cases that Mousavian reviews.
Clinton’s action was part of a general pattern, an unusual one. Ordinarily, particularly on energy-related issues, policy conforms to Adam Smith’s comments on 18th-century England, where the “masters of mankind” who own the private economy are the “principal architects” of government policy, and act to ensure that their own interests are foremost, however “grievous” the effect on others, including the people of England. Exceptions are rare, and instructive.
Two striking exceptions are Cuba and Iran. Major business interests (pharmaceuticals, energy, agribusiness, aircraft, and others) have been eager to break into Cuban and Iranian markets and to establish relations with domestic enterprises. State power bars any such moves, overruling parochial interests of the “masters of mankind” in favor of the transcendent goal of punishing successful defiance.
There’s a good deal to say about these exceptions to the rule, but it would take us too far afield.
The release of the Jamal Khashoggi murder report disappointed almost everyone, save Saudi Arabia. Why is the Biden administration taking such a soft approach towards Saudi Arabia, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, which prompted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to write that, “Biden … let the murderer walk”?
Not hard to guess. Who wants to offend the close ally and regional power that the State Department described during World War II as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history … probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment.” The world has changed in many ways since, but the basic reasoning remains.
Biden had promised that, if elected, he would scale back Trump’s nuclear weapons spending, and that the U.S. would not rely on nuclear weapons for defense. Are we likely to see a dramatic shift in U.S. nuclear strategy under the Biden administration whereby the use of these weapons will be far less likely?
For reasons of cost alone, it is a goal that should be high on the agenda of anyone who wants to see the kinds of domestic programs the country badly needs. But the reasons go far beyond. Current nuclear strategy calls for preparation for war — meaning terminal nuclear war — with China and Russia.
We should also remember an observation of Daniel Ellsberg’s: Nuclear weapons are constantly used, much in the way a gun is used by a robber who aims his gun at a storekeeper and says, “Your money or your life.” The principle in fact is enshrined in policy, in the important 1995 document “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence” issued by Clinton’s Strategic Command (STRATCOM). The study concludes that nuclear weapons are indispensable because of their incomparable destructive power, but even if not used, “nuclear weapons always cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict,” enabling us to gain our ends through intimidation; Ellsberg’s point. The study goes on to authorize “preemptive” use of nuclear weapons and provides advice for planners, who should not “portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed.” Rather, the “national persona we project” should be “that the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked and that “some elements may appear to be potentially ‘out of control.’”
Richard Nixon’s “madman theory,” but this time not from reports by associates but from the designers of nuclear strategy.
Two months ago, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into effect. The nuclear powers refused to sign, and still violate their legal responsibility under the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to undertake “effective measures” to eliminate nuclear weapons. That stance is not carved in stone, and popular activism could induce significant moves in that direction, a necessity for survival.
Regrettably, that level of civilization still seems beyond the range of the most powerful states, which are careening in the opposite direction, upgrading and enhancing the means to terminate organized human life on Earth.
Hong Kong (CNN)China is assembling an increasingly offensive military and expanding its regional footprint, as Beijing steps up efforts to supplant American military power in Asia, a top US commander warned Congress on Tuesday.”I cannot for the life of me understand some of the capabilities that they’re putting in the field unless it is an aggressive posture,” Adm. Philip Davidson, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”I see them developing systems, capabilities and a posture that would indicate that they’re interested in aggression,” Davidson said.Adm. Philip Davidson, head of US Indo-Pacific CommandDavidson, who in the hearing defended budget requests for billions of dollars of new weaponry in the Pacific, said the increased investment was necessary to deter Chinese military ambition in the region.Content by RV ShareMillennials are flocking to RV’s like never beforeWe’ve been inside for almost a full calendar year, meaning that your roamin’, ramblin’ clan of wanderers could be suffering from some serious cabin fever.Describing China as “the greatest long-term strategic threat to security in the 21st century” Davidson said Beijing has been carrying out increasingly threatening moves, citing Chinese military activity around Taiwan, along its disputed border with India and even around US islands in the Pacific.”I’m worried that they’re accelerating their ambitions … to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order, which they’ve long said that they want to do that by 2050. I’m worried about them moving that target closer,” Davidson said.China is adamant its military is defensive.”The development of China’s national defense aims to meet its rightful security needs and contribute to the growth of the world’s peaceful forces,” the country’s 2019 defense white paper said. “China will never threaten any other country or seek any sphere of influence.”
Analysis: China has built the world’s largest navy. Now what’s Beijing going to do with it?Concerning Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that China claims as its sovereign territory, Davidson said Beijing may make a move to take control of it in the near future. “I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact in the next six years,” he said, adding that the threat to Taiwan is increasing while the US’ ability to deter Chinese actions is “eroding.”Asked if it is necessary for the US to defend Taiwan, Davidson said inaction would damage the US’ international status and harm its credibility as a defense partner.Mainland China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a bloody civil war in 1949 but Beijing has vowed to never allow the island to become formally independent and has refused to rule out the use of force if necessary.”Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Col. Wu Qian said in January. “The PLA will take all necessary measures to resolutely defeat any attempt by the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists, and firmly defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”Citing Taiwan and Beijing’s territorial disputes with neighbors, Wu on Sunday defended China’s just-announced 6.8% increase in military spending for 2021, saying that “the world is not peaceful and our national defense must be strong,” according to state media.
‘Guam is a target today’
While China’s military has long been upping its presence close to its shores, in places like Taiwan and the South China Sea, Davidson revealed it is becoming more active around the US Pacific Island territories.”We’re seeing Chinese naval deployments of service task groups and submarines that make circumnavigations of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas,” he said.He also cited a Chinese propaganda video that depicted bombers hitting Andersen Air Force Base on Guam as well as Beijing’s robust ballistic missile forces, which are well within reach of the Micronesian island from the Chinese mainland.US military aircraft stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, perform an “Elephant Walk” to showcase combat readiness on April 13, 2020.”Guam is a target today. It needs to be defended,” Davidson said, pointing out the island is home to 170,000 US citizens. “Their defense is homeland defense.”To that end, the admiral said Congress needs to fund the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, at a cost of about $1.6 billion, for the island.Current missile defense on Guam is provided by the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, but Davidson said it does not provide 360-degree coverage that would be required to answer possible threats from missile-armed Chinese ships, subs and planes.”We have to demonstrate that any ambition that China might have and any threat it might put forth towards Guam would come at cost,” he said.
Diamond democratic alliance
The Aegis Ashore plan is part of the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a $27 billion five-year plan to upgrade US forces around the region.Besides the Aegis system, the Pentagon also requested new radar defenses for Hawaii; more intelligence and reconnaissance assets; more munitions; more Navy, Air Force and Marine troops in the region; and more training and exercises with allies and partners.Those partners include members of the four-nation Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic forum of the US, Japan, India and Australia.
Biden looks to be in ‘lockstep’ with allies on ChinaDavidson on Tuesday referred to that grouping as a “diamond of democracies” in the Indo-Pacific.The leaders of those four countries will meet virtually on Friday, in the highest level meeting yet for what to date has been an informal grouping.Davidson said Tuesday he hoped the organization could “build into something bigger.””Not in terms of security alone, but in terms of how we might approach … the global economy, critical technologies like telecommunications and 5G, collaboration on the international order — just much to be done diplomatically and economically,” he said.The US commander’s testimony came as Chinese leader Xi Jinping called on his nation’s armed forces to “focus on combat readiness” while setting out military goals for the next five years, according to a report from the state-run Xinhua news agency.”Highlighting the ‘instabilities’ and ‘uncertainties’ in China’s current security circumstances, Xi said the whole armed forces must always be ready to respond to all kinds of complex and difficult situations, resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and provide strong support for fully building a modern socialist country,” the Xinhua report said.
One way to create an EMP is to set off a nuclear bomb. Here, a billowing white mushroom cloud during Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb, at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (Image credit: CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
A U.S. Air Force base in Texas has taken the first steps to guard against an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. But what, exactly, is an EMP, and how big is the threat?
Officials at the Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland, Texas, issued a request for bids to carry out a survey of a facility called the Petroleum, Oil and Lubrication Complex. The survey will identify any equipment that could be vulnerable to an EMP ahead of more detailed vulnerability testing, according to the request. After that, officials would figure out ways to keep that equipment safe in the event of an EMP attack.
An EMP is a massive burst of electromagnetic energy that can occur naturally or be generated deliberately using nuclear weapons. While many experts don’t think EMPs pose a big threat, some people argue that these types of weapons could be used to cause widespread disruption to electricity-dependent societies.
“You can use a single weapon to collapse the entire North American power grid,” said defense analyst Peter Pry, who served on the Congressional EMP Commission, which was set up to assess the threat of EMP attacks but shut down in 2017.
“Once the electric grid goes down, everything would collapse,” Pry told Live Science. “Everything depends on electricity: telecommunications, transportation, even water.”
According to the request, the testing at Lackland comes in response to a 2019 executive order issued by then-President Donald Trump for the federal government to strengthen its infrastructure against EMPs. Pry, who has consulted on the project, said the survey and resulting upgrades are part of a broader initiative by the U.S. Air Force to beef up its defenses against this type of threat.CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.446.1_en.html#goog_1366613187about:blankabout:blankVolume 0% PLAY SOUND
Why EMPs are so dangerous
An EMP releases huge waves of electromagnetic energy, which can act like a giant moving magnet. Such a changing magnetic field can cause electrons in a nearby wire to move, thereby inducing a current. With such a huge burst of energy, an EMP can cause damaging power surges in any electronics within range.
These pulses can occur deliberately or naturally. Natural EMPs occur when the sun occasionally spits out massive streams of plasma, and if they come our way, Earth’s natural magnetic field can deflect them. But when the sun spits out enough plasma at once, the impact can cause the magnetic field to wobble and generate a powerful EMP. The last time this happened was in 1859 in the so-called Carrington Event, and while electronics were still rare then, it knocked out much of the recently built telegraph network.
Then, there’s the possibility of deliberate EMPs. If a nuclear weapon were to be detonated high in the atmosphere, Pry said, the gamma radiation it would release could strip electrons from air molecules and accelerate them at close to the speed of light. These charge-carrying electrons would be corralled by Earth’s magnetic field, and as they zipped around, they would generate a powerful, fluctuating electric current, which, in turn, would generate a massive EMP. The explosion could also distort Earth’s magnetic field, causing a slower pulse similar to a naturally occuring EMP.
Setting off a nuclear weapon about 200 miles (300 kilometers) above the U.S. could create an EMP that would cover most of North America, Pry said. The explosion and radiation from the bomb would dissipate before reaching ground level, but the resulting EMP would be powerful enough to destroy electronics across the region, Pry said. “If you were standing on the ground directly beneath the detonation, you wouldn’t even hear it go off,” Pry said. “The EMP would pass harmlessly through your body.”
A small EMP with a radius of under a kilometer can also be generated by combining high-voltage power sources with antennas that release this energy as electromagnetic waves. The U.S. military has a prototype cruise missile carrying an EMP generator. Called the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), it can be used to target specific enemy facilities, and Pry said it would be within the capabilities of many militaries, or even terrorist groups, to build an EMP generator.
“We’ve arrived at a place where a single individual can topple the technological pillars of civilization for a major metropolitan area all by himself armed with some device like this,” he said.
The technology required to protect against EMPs is similar to what is already used to prevent damage from power surges caused by lightning, Pry said. These technologies would have to be adapted to deal with higher voltages, but devices such as surge protectors, which divert excess voltage into the Earth, or Faraday cages, which shield devices from electromagnetic radiation, could do the job.
Pry said the EMP Commission estimated it would cost $2 billion to $4 billion to protect the most important pieces of equipment in the national grid, but ideally, he would like to see standards changed so that EMP protection is built into devices.
EMP: Should you worry?
The threat posed by EMPs is far from settled, though. A 2019 report by the Electric Power Research Institute, which is funded by utility companies, found that such an attack would probably cause regional blackouts but not a nationwide grid failure and that recovery times would be similar to those of other large-scale outages.AdvertisementRELATED CONTENT
Frank Cilluffo, director of Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, said that, while an EMP attack would certainly be devastating, it’s unlikely that the United States’ enemies would carry out such a brazen assault.
“There are other ways that adversaries can achieve some of the same outcomes, some of which would be cheaper and some of which would be less discernible,” Cilluffo told Live Science.
Such alternatives might include cyberattacks to take out critical infrastructure, including the electric grid, or even efforts to disrupt space-based communications or the GPS system that modern society is so reliant on. Work to protect against EMPs makes sense, particularly given the possibility of another Carrington-like event, but these upgrades shouldn’t distract from efforts to shore up defenses against more probable lines of attack, Cilluffo said.