The Precarious Nuclear Game (Revelation 15)

Victor Gilinsky
The world relies too much on the indefinite continuation of the post-1945 taboo on military use of nuclear weapons. It was never a secure bar to such use, but now official statements and academic writings indicate a perceptible weakening of it. If a nuclear weapon country used its weapons in anger, anywhere, even on a relatively small scale, it would signal that nuclear war was no longer a theoretical possibility, but a reality. That realization is likely to have far-reaching political and social consequences worldwide. Yet it is hard to find any examination of what these consequences may be.
I don’t mean studies on the effects of nuclear weapons, or of a nuclear Armageddon, of which there is no lack. Anyone can access web-based graphic displays to estimate the devastation of a nuclear bomb dropping on his or her city. I have never heard of anyone moving out of one of those cities out of fear of a nuclear attack, but if a real nuclear bomb dropped somewhere, even far off, people are likely to think about it differently.
Nuclear terrorism: The diversion. I also don’t mean studies on what might happen if terrorists—rather than a country—used a nuclear weapon. There are many such studies, as well. The world’s leaders have adopted countering terrorist use of nuclear weapons as the main subject of the heavily advertised international security summits. It makes for “successful” meetings because all countries are on the same side in dealing with nuclear terrorism—they are all against it.
Nuclear terrorism is a concern, but the disproportionate official and academic focus on it diverts attention from the much more serious, but also much more difficult, problems of restraining countries that have nuclear weapons and keeping others who have an interest in getting them from doing so—and then using them. Dealing with nuclear weapon states, and would-be nuclear weapon states, means confronting argument over the rights and wrongs of nuclear weapon possession and considering major policy changes, all of which world leaders stay clear of.
Nuclear weapon use by nations. When it comes to nuclear weapon use by a nation, the most likely candidates are the countries outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan—all of which are involved in territorial disputes that have led to wars. Initial nuclear weapon use may or may not involve large civilian casualties; it could in fact take place on a battlefield, with few civilian casualties. The current operative assumption in nuclear circles is apparently that after such an event the world would basically go on as it is, albeit with suitable changes in nuclear strategy by the other owners of these weapons, and possibly increased efforts by yet others to get the weapons, too.
But I think the more powerful result would be a sea change in the thinking of people around the world. They may decide, for example, that they don’t want to be anywhere near a potential target. Governments may find it difficult to maintain control without repressive measures. There may be a premium on shelter space. There are already news stories about the super-rich outfitting themselves with extraordinarily secure underground facilities. It sounds overwrought, but then we may be too complacent.
In the wake of military use of nuclear weapons, and the prospect of further use, popular movements may force changes—possibly violent changes—in the way that the world is organized. What these changes might be is difficult to say. We do know that the “experts” tend to underestimate the broader societal consequences of new circumstances that fall outside conventional assumptions.
Take a recent example: the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant accident. A technical expert could have projected that a large tsunami would disable the safety systems of the plant and cause a severe accident. But no one had predicted that after the accident Japan, in reaction to public outcry, would then shut its nuclear reactors, and that the governments of a number of other countries would decide to end their nuclear power programs altogether.
Or consider the 2008 world financial crash. Not only did the central bankers insist in advance that it could not happen, but they failed to understand its broader economic significance even when important banks started to fail.
And, of course, there is the 100-year-old example of World War I. Even after the Austrian archduke’s 1914 assassination, no one expected a long world war that would destroy four major empires.
Weakening the taboo. What has changed to weaken the taboo against nuclear weapons use? For one thing, the horror of nuclear weapons has diminished in the public mind. I am old enough to remember having to jump under my desk during “atomic” bomb drills in high school. There is almost no one alive today—and likely no one in a position of influence—who has seen a nuclear explosion. We know that the experience made a deep impression on many of those who did, and convinced them in a visceral way of the need for caution. New generations of officials and academics treat nuclear weapons as abstract chess pieces. Of course, none of them wants nuclear war, but one senses a new interest in playing with the possibilities nuclear weapons offer for increasing a country’s influence, or protecting it against others with nuclear arms.
Academic journal papers talk of a new renaissance in nuclear security studies that examine the extent to which such weapons increase a state’s bargaining power and its prestige, all with a view to making use of—if not the bomb itself—at least the shadow cast by the bomb. Some of these political strategists write as if there are quantitative laws that govern the deterrent effect and influence of nuclear weapons, laws which need only be discovered to be applicable by national leaders to their advantage. This is, of course, dangerous nonsense, but it provides a useful academic validation for powerful officials and bureaucracies involved with the weapons who want them—and thus the possibility of nuclear war—to remain an important aspect of national policy.
And while indeed no one wants nuclear war, it would also be only human if there were moments when some of the nuclear weapons advocates yearned for a chance to test the results of their work in the real world. It is easy to rationalize the notion by suggesting that the results would not be as bad as people think with small, modern nuclear weapons; that at the lower end of weapon yields, nuclear weapons overlap with conventional ones; that escalation can be controlled; and so on. We have been there before. In an early book, Henry Kissinger wrote: “With proper tactics, nuclear war need not be as destructive as it appears when we think of it in terms of traditional warfare.”
There is now also public discussion of the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons in countries where such public discussions never took place before, namely South Korea and Japan. They are obviously concerned about the failure of the major guardians of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to cope adequately with North Korea. While any step in the direction of nuclear weapons is still only a remote possibility in South Korea and Japan, it is no longer an unthinkable one. If either country did acquire nuclear weapons, it would surely be the end of the NPT. And while acquisition of nuclear weapons does not translate to use, the more countries with nuclear weapons, the greater the chances that things could go wrong.
Will deterrence prevent nuclear use? What could go wrong? Nowadays, respectable people in nuclear weapons countries insist that their weapons are not for use in fighting wars but purely for deterrence.
But what is deterrence? It is convincing opponents not to harm you out of fear that, if they do, you will harm them more than they can stand. You don’t have to think very hard to realize that nuclear deterrence is based on the threat to use nuclear weapons in certain circumstances (which for some countries include conventional attacks by their adversaries). In other words, deterrence cannot be divorced from use. That is why trained and dedicated officers in nine countries operate in shifts, waiting for orders to release their weapons. In other words, non-use is predicated on adversaries never using their nuclear weapons, or crossing some stated “red line.” One has the feeling that in the strategy of some countries, a so-called second strike may precede an adversary’s first strike.
One might ask, why in these circumstances would any country do anything that would risk nuclear retaliation? The short answer is that human beings sometimes do foolish things. Or they might evaluate the situation differently from their opponent, perhaps regarding the threat of a nuclear attack as a bluff.
To take a current example: If I understand correctly, Pakistan threatens to respond to an Indian military incursion with newly developed battlefield nuclear weapons. India previously threatened such incursions in response to what it claimed were Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attacks. Will India now be deterred from responding? Will Pakistan now refrain from supporting activities that may trigger an Indian response? Probably they themselves are not sure.
In one of his early books, Henry Kissinger described deterrence as a product of three multiplicative factors: “power, the will to use it, and the assessment of these by the potential aggressor.” (One always assumes nowadays that one’s adversary is the aggressor.) Two of the three factors are psychological. In other words, deterrence is in the mind of the adversary, and we know that minds do strange things. I would add another psychological element—the adversary’s evaluation of the consequences of not taking actions despite the risk of nuclear retaliation. It may be as simple as a politician knowing if he does not take the risk, he is finished.
Dangerous bias toward “hawks.” The risk of nuclear use is exacerbated by the cult of toughness at high levels in government. In a crisis, national leaders—likely tired, possibly awake with stimulants, and largely unfamiliar with the details, and perhaps even the basic facts, of nuclear weapon use—will be subject to multiple pressures, each with inevitable consequences for their political future. (That is, if the national leader is actually the one making the decision.) There is in these situations a bias in favor of hawks as opposed to doves. It is an age-old problem. In his history of the Greek wars, Thucydides famously commented that in times of war reckless audacity was equated with courage, and prudent hesitation with cowardice.
The experts describe the stability of deterrence as a delicate matter—with too little retaliatory power you risk attack, but if you threaten to build up too much strength, especially on the defensive side, the opponent may misinterpret it as initial steps toward aggression and you may risk preemptive attack. But if deterrence is a delicate affair that requires constant tuning by experts, is it something to count on never to fail?
That no nuclear weapons were used during the Cold War, and since, has been taken by the nuclear weapon professionals as a demonstration of the effectiveness of deterrence. But is this really a valid conclusion? For one thing, we know there were close brushes with possible use. For another, the lack of use does not necessarily translate into effective deterrence. There may be no deterrence at work at all if countries, even hostile adversaries, have no intention of using nuclear weapons against each other for reasons unrelated to the fear of retaliatory attack. What conclusions can be drawn from the decades of non-use of nuclear weapons for the future? None we can be sure of.
Accidental war. The taboo on nuclear weapons may also fail accidentally. There have been situations in both the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia that could have led to the launch of nuclear weapons by mistake but for the action of an individual officer. It would be surprising if such situations have not also occurred in other nuclear weapon countries. There have also been occasions when nuclear bombs fell out of airplanes on routine patrol. In one such case, a multi-megaton bomb very nearly exploded—after impact, five of six electronic locks failed.
A nuclear weapons enterprise requires extraordinary care and discipline at all stages, and never more so in dealing with weapons ready to launch. It is, however, extremely difficult to maintain proper discipline and motivation in a system that is never used. There are exercises and inspections, but that is not the same thing. There is a tendency, of which there is some evidence, to become sloppy. The nuclear risks are obvious.
Where now? There was a large element of luck in getting through the Cold War without nuclear weapon use. Will that luck hold?
The United States and Russia have reduced their large nuclear arsenals, but no other countries seem inclined to follow their lead. By all accounts, most other countries with nuclear weapons are building more, or modernizing them, or both. The countries outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty—India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan—are increasing the sophistication of their forces. India seeks a submarine-based strategic force, Israel already has one and is expanding it, North Korea is building more weapons and is experimenting with submarine-launched missiles, and Pakistan is introducing short-range nuclear weapons to counter a possible Indian conventional attack. It is difficult to believe that with all this expensive nuclear weaponry deployed, that the world’s nuclear countries will confine its use to gaming nuclear exchanges and calculating whose weapons cast the larger and more ominous shadow.
As if to underline that we should expect no change in this picture, on October 27 the nuclear weapon countries (with the bizarre exception of North Korea) would not support a UN General Assembly resolution to start discussions on eliminating nuclear weapons. The resolution passed overwhelmingly and the negotiations will apparently start next year, with or without the nuclear powers. A hard look at the worldwide societal consequences of nuclear weapon use could help to support these discussions and underline their importance.
In the 1959 movie, On the Beach, a survivor of nuclear war asks, “If everyone was so smart, why didn’t they see this coming?” Exactly. Stop and think about what may be coming if we don’t act.
Above all, when it comes to nuclear weapons, we should not allow ourselves to just drift into the future. We need to look ahead as best we can and steer in a safer direction.

Don’t Forget About the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Don’t forget about earthquakes, feds tell city

Although New York’s modern skyscrapers are less likely to be damaged in an earthquake than shorter structures, a new study suggests the East Coast is more vulnerable than previously thought. The new findings will help alter building codes.
By Mark Fahey
July 18, 2014 10:03 a.m.

New York Earthquake Hazard New York Earthquake Hazard The U.S. Geological Survey had good and bad news for New Yorkers on Thursday. In releasing its latest set of seismic maps the agency said earthquakes are a slightly lower hazard for New York City’s skyscrapers than previously thought, but on the other hand noted that the East Coast may be able to produce larger, more dangerous earthquakes than previous assessments have indicated.

The 2014 maps were created with input from hundreds of experts from across the country and are based on much stronger data than the 2008 maps, said Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project. The bottom line for the nation’s largest city is that the area is at a slightly lower risk for the types of slow-shaking earthquakes that are especially damaging to tall spires of which New York has more than most places, but the city is still at high risk due to its population density and aging structures, said Mr. Petersen.
“Many of the overall patterns are the same in this map as in previous maps,” said Mr. Petersen. “There are large uncertainties in seismic hazards in the eastern United States. [New York City] has a lot of exposure and some vulnerability, but people forget about earthquakes because you don’t see damage from ground shaking happening very often.”
Just because they’re infrequent doesn’t mean that large and potentially disastrous earthquakes can’t occur in the area. The new maps put the largest expected magnitude at 8, significantly higher than the 2008 peak of 7.7 on a logarithmic scale. The scientific understanding of East Coast earthquakes has expanded in recent years thanks to a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia in 2011 that was felt by tens of millions of people across the eastern U.S. New data compiled by the nuclear power industry has also helped experts understand quakes.
Oddly enough, it’s not the modern tall towers that are most at risk. Those buildings become like inverted pendulums in the high frequency shakes that are more common on the East Coast than in the West. But the city’s old eight- and 10-story masonry structures could suffer in a large quake, said Mr. Lerner-Lam. Engineers use maps like those released on Thursday to evaluate the minimum structural requirements at building sites, he said. The risk of an earthquake has to be determined over the building’s life span, not year-to-year.
“If a structure is going to exist for 100 years, frankly, it’s more than likely it’s going to see an earthquake over that time,” said Mr. Lerner-Lam. “You have to design for that event.”
The new USGS maps will feed into the city’s building-code review process, said a spokesman for the New York City Department of Buildings. Design provisions based on the maps are incorporated into a standard by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which is then adopted by the International Building Code and local jurisdictions like New York City. New York’s current provisions are based on the 2010 standards, but a new edition based on the just-released 2014 maps is due around 2016, he said.
“The standards for seismic safety in building codes are directly based upon USGS assessments of potential ground shaking from earthquakes, and have been for years,” said Jim Harris, a member and former chair of the Provisions Update Committee of the Building Seismic Safety Council, in a statement.
The seismic hazard model also feeds into risk assessment and insurance policies, according to Nilesh Shome, senior director of Risk Management Solutions, the largest insurance modeler in the industry. The new maps will help the insurance industry as a whole price earthquake insurance and manage catastrophic risk, said Mr. Shome. The industry collects more than $2.5 billion in premiums for earthquake insurance each year and underwrites more than $10 trillion in building risk, he said.

The Consequences of Obama’s Policy in Iraq

By Mariam Al Hijab
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, November 21, 2016
On October 17, the world saw the beginning of the offensive of the so-called “coalition forces” consisting of the Peshmerga troops, Shia and Sunni militia and the Iraqi army. The aerial support is provided by the US-led coalition aviation. US and British Spec Ops, American, French and British artillery and military advisers along with western PSCs are aiding the operation forces on the ground.
Even before the operation started, international humanitarian organizations, journalists and politicians of various countries forecast the aggravation of the humanitarian situation. It was clear that ISIS wouldn’t let the Mosul population leave the city to use the residents as human shields. The Pentagon, which basically supervised the arrangement of the operation and is controlling it now, initially planned no humanitarian corridors for civilians. This reminds us of the assault on Iraq’s Fallujah in 2004 after it was captured by Muqtada al-Sadr’s militants. Then, the US military gave one week for civilians to leave the city without providing any humanitarian corridors or camps. Afterwards, all the residents who stayed in the city were considered terrorists’ accomplices. Thousands of civilians fell victims to the assault that followed.
Now, Mosul and its suburbs are witnessing airstrikes on living districts that destroy schools, mosques and residential houses; more than 1.5 thousand civilians were killed the previous month. Not all of them became the victims of the Coalition’s jets – both Western and Iraqi artillery, which is far from being accurate, also contributes to the death toll. As analysts predicted, the government troops (the Western special forces and mercenaries are fighting in Mosul suburbs) shoot at almost anything that moves while operating within the city borders. Such a tactic resulted in dozens if not hundreds of civilians killed, as revealed in the footages of Iraqi journalists advancing with the army. The troops seem to tag the Mosul population as ISIS accomplices not to risk their own lives.
Meanwhile, hundreds of the city and local villages’ residents have been executed or murdered by terrorists themselves. For instance, one can be killed for violating the ban on using mobile phones, alleged assistance to the coalition forces or simply for an attempt to leave the city without the required fee or permit.
The UN reports that more than 50 thousand people have left the city and its outskirts since the operation started. Only 12 thousand of them received the required aid. The number of refugees from the war-torn region is projected to reach one million by midwinter. Before the operation, it was stated that most of them would be placed in Iraq’s Ninawa and Anbar provinces. But as for November 1, the camps there were filled up to 50%.
Meanwhile, at the urge or direction of the US Command, neither Iraqi nor foreign humanitarian organizations are permitted to enter the battle zone. No one cares about the locals suffering from the shortage of medicine, water and food or qualified medical aid.
Actually, people have nowhere to go to, they just can’t escape from the war. They have basically only one way – to move to Europe. Is the West ready for it? That’s unlikely. It would rather keep the Mosul residents in the city until the coalition eliminates everyone it calls “terrorists”.
Mariam Al Hijab is a freelance journalist with the Inside Syria Media Center.
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Russia And Babylon the Great Join Horns (Daniel 7)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday U.S. President-elect Donald Trump confirmed to him he was willing to mend ties, though he also said he would welcome President Barack Obama in Russia.
Putin also told a news conference in Lima after the APEC summit that Russia is ready to freeze oil output at current levels.
Putin said he thanked Obama during Sunday’s meeting in Lima “for the years of joint work”.
“I told him that we would be happy to see him (Obama) in Russia anytime if he wants, can and has desire”, Putin said.