The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Living on the Fault Line

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.

After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.

Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.

During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.

“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”

Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.

Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.

After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.

Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.

Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.

The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.

For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.

Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”

The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.

This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”

Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”

But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.

Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.

All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.

For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.

Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.

To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.

In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.

As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)

In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.

The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (

Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.

Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.

This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.

For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at

All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.

Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”


For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.

In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.

Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”

Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.

This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”

A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.

“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”

Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

Indian Point’s Unit 2 reactor shuts off but NOT Unit 3

Indian Point’s Unit 2 reactor under construction in 1968.

Photo courtesy of Entergy

Indian Point’s Unit 2 reactor shuts off after nearly 46 years generating power

In recent weeks, climate scientists like James Hansen decried the reactor’s shutdown, saying it was a mistake to eliminate a source of clean energy from the state’s power grid. Hansen and others predict that natural gas will fill the energy gap left when Indian Point shuts down next year.

“Many people will die because of the stupidity of this action, in which a nuclear power plant is closed before all fossil fuel power plants have been closed,” Hansen told The Journal News/ two weeks ago.

Entergy cited reduced revenues linked to the cheap price of natural gas as a major factor in its decision to close the plant.

On Friday morning, natural gas and dual fuel — natural gas or other fossil fuels — were contributing about 31%of the state’s energy needs. Hydropower coming from upstate New York near Niagara  Falls was contributing 33%, while renewables like wind and solar power were a little over 4%.

The Cuomo administration wants the state to rely on renewables for 70% of its energy needs in 10 years.

The British Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Pride: why the UK spent billions on nuclear bombs but ignored pandemic threat

A viral outbreak was judged more likely than a nuclear attack – so why was Trident ring-fenced while NHS funding was cut?

Onboard HMS Vigilant at HM Naval Base Clyde, Faslane, the Vanguard-class submarine carries the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent.

PA Images

We now know that the government was warned last year that a viral pandemic posed the greatest potential threat to the country. In a confidential briefing from the Cabinet Office, which was leaked last week, ministers were told that tens of thousands lives could be at risk if an outbreak occurred. Among the recommendations were stockpiling PPE (personal protective equipment) and establishing plans for a contact tracing system.

It was not the first time that warnings fell on deaf ears. In 2014, the Ministry of Defence advised that “alertness to changing trends” was vital to mitigating the likelihood of a pandemic. Senior civilian and military officials promptly shoved the report into a draw where it was left to gather dust.

To make matters worse, the austerity programme carried out over the last decade, has led to significant cuts to government projects and public services, including the NHS, that would ready us for a pandemic. There has, however, been one notable exception to the cuts – the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Tens of billions continue to be spent on weapons that are of no use against the types of attacks judged a possible threat to the UK in the government’s National Risk Register. The latest register, drawn up in 2017, refers only to the need to protect nuclear power stations and the possibility of chemical, biological and nuclear material attacks by terrorists. But it adds that terrorists’ use of conventional weapons is “far more likely”.

Successive governments have described Britain’s nuclear arsenal as an “ultimate insurance” against an attack, or blackmail, by a foreign power. If that is the case, then why did the government not increase its healthcare spending as insurance against what it knew was a far greater threat – an infectious pandemic.

Defenders of Britain’s nuclear weapons argue that they are needed for political reasons, to preserve Britain’s status as world power. But arguments about whether nuclear weapons would ever be considered a realistic or effective threat against a potential aggressor are dodged.

The lack of credibility surrounding Britain’s nuclear weapons is, in this writer’s view, perfectly illustrated by David Greig’s play, ‘The Letter of Last Resort’. In it, the prime minister, on her first day in office, discusses with a senior Whitehall official the instructions she will give a Trident submarine commander in the event of a catastrophic attack on Britain.

“‘To write ‘retaliate’ is monstrous and irrational. To write “don’t retaliate” renders the whole nuclear project valueless,’ she says. ‘Yes, madam,’ says the official.”

Britain’s nuclear weapons are being modernised at a cost of more than £200bn, a figure the MoD does not dispute. Trident was once described by Jon Thompson, when he was the ministry’s top official, as the single biggest future financial risk Britain faced. “The project is a monster,” he said.

The project, as the National Audit Office, parliament’s financial watchdog, has repeatedly pointed out, has been beset by delays and technical problems. It also skews the defence budget, diverting resources that should be spent on cyber security and military support for civilian authorities.

While billions are being spent on our nuclear deterrent, British troops were deployed without adequate equipment, including body armour, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now, in the midst of the pandemic, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and care home staff, are under-equipped. The government was ill-prepared over the coronavirus crisis, and was ill-prepared for the invasion of Iraq and the counter-Taliban campaign in Afghanistan. The parallels are not exact, of course, but in both cases failures of government have led to avoidable deaths.

These failures are the consequence of a dangerous mindset that has imbued Whitehall for far too long: a reluctance to speak truth to power combined with cognitive dissonance. The government ignores whatever it finds uncomfortable and insteads dictates its actions on the arrogant assumption that Britain, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power, will somehow be protected from the afflictions facing other countries.

An internal Ministry of Defence document submitted to the Chilcot inquiry into the invasion of Iraq bluntly stated: “… the UK military was complacent and slow in recognising and adopting to changing circumstances.” It concluded that the “MoD is good at identifying lessons, but less good at learning them.” The same could be said of the government’s pandemic planning.

The Growing French Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

The French Navy’s New Suffren Class Attack Submarine

May 2, 2020,

The first Suffren Class attack submarine has begun sea trials. It represents a step-change for the French Navy, officially known as the Marine Nationale. France already operates a nuclear-only submarine force, which places it on the top tier of world navies. But the current Rubis Class boats are significantly smaller than their U.S. and British counterparts. And they are a generation older. The Suffren should largely close the gap on France’s leading NATO allies.

H I Sutton

Suffren is the first of 6 Barracuda type boats for the French Navy. She was laid down in December 2007 and launched in July last year. She successfully completed a static dive test, part of the builder’s trials, on April 28.

At around 5,000 tons surfaced she is about twice the size of the diminutive Rubis class. And larger than any non-nuclear types in service around the world. Yet she is still smaller than either the Royal Navy’s Astute Class (~7,000 tons) and the U.S. Navy’s Virginia Class (~8,000 tons).

One disadvantage of this smaller size is that Suffren can carry fewer weapons. With nuclear-powered attack submarines being an apex predator there is a consideration that they may sink so many enemy warships that they run out of torpedoes. This will be particularly true of the Suffren which carries about the same number of weapons as a non-nuclear submarine. Her maximum load of around 24 weapons is about 60% that of the current Virginia and Astute classes.

The torpedo armament will be very modern however. The brand new F-21 Artemis heavyweight torpedo is derived from the Italian Black Shark type. This has an all-electric propulsion using the latest battery technologies. The boat will also be able to carry the SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missile and the new MdCN (Missile De Croisière Naval) cruise missile. This latter weapon provides the submarine with a strategic ‘first night’ strike capability, hitting land targets hundreds of miles away. It will be the first time that a French Navy submarine is equipped with land attack cruise missiles.

One interesting feature is that the crew will be much smaller than U.S. and British types. Thanks to increased automation the crew has been reduced from 70 aboard the preceding Rubis class to just 65. This compares to 98 for the Astute Class and 135 aboard a Virginia Class boat. In an age when western submarine forces are struggling to attract and retain submariners the smaller crew may be a blessing. The challenge is whether it is enough people for very long patrols which are normal for larger NATO nuclear-powered attack submarines. More hands reduces crew fatigue and makes it easier to conduct underway repairs.

It’s an interesting experiment and too soon to call. Suffren has room for 15 special forces operatives so their bunks might be sacrificed for extra crew if it doesn’t go to plan.

There is no doubt that the Suffren Class is a thoroughly capable design which brings the French Navy closer to the U.S. and British capabilities. It will add new dimensions to the French Navy and reinforce it place in the top tier of world navies.

Iran Prepares to Terminate the Iran Deal

Iran warns of nuclear deal ‘death’ if arms embargo extended

TEHRAN: A top Iranian official on Sunday warned that a nuclear deal the US withdrew unilaterally from would “die forever” if an arms embargo on Tehran is extended.

The United States is campaigning to extend the ban on selling conventional weapons to Iran, which is set to be progressively lifted as of October.

The ban’s lifting is part of a 2015 United Nations Security Council resolution that blessed the nuclear accord reached between Iran and world powers.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, on Sunday tweeted that the nuclear deal “will die forever” by “circumventing 2231 Resolution & continuing Iran’s illegal weapons sanction”.

He also questioned what would Iran’s EU partners to the deal do in such a case. “What will #EU do: Save dignity & support multilateralism or accept humiliation & help unilateralism?” Shamkhani said.

Iran and the United States have been at loggerheads for decades. Tensions escalated in 2018 when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions as part of a campaign of “maximum pressure”.

Tehran has progressively rolled up its commitments to the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA in retaliation to the US pulling out of the accord.

The other partners to the JCPOA are Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The accord gave the Islamic republic relief from international sanctions in return for limits on its nuclear programme.

US Secretary of States Mike Pompeo said last month he would ask the UN Security Council to prolong the ban.

Washington would use a legal argument based on an interpretation of Resolution 2231 that it remains a “participant” in the nuclear deal despite renouncing it, and can extend the arms embargo on Tehran or see more stringent sanctions reimposed.

Iran, for its part, accuses the US of violating the resolution over its 2018 withdrawal.

China Would NOT Use Nuclear Weapons First in a War

Would China Use Nuclear Weapons First in a War With the United States?

Recent American statements on Chinese nuclear weapons policy merit closer scrutiny.

Credit: YouTube screen capture via CCTV

Admiral Charles A. Richard, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, recently told the Senate Armed Service Committee he “could drive a truck” through the holes in China’s no first use policy. But when Senator John Hawley (R-MO) asked him why he said that, Commander Richard backtracked, described China’s policy as “very opaque” and said his assessment was based on “very little” information.

That’s surprising. China has been exceptionally clear about its intentions on the possible first use of nuclear weapons. On the day of its first nuclear test on October 16, 1964, China declared it “will never at any time or under any circumstances be the first to use nuclear weapons.” That unambiguous statement has been a cornerstone of Chinese nuclear weapons policy for 56 years and has been repeated frequently in authoritative Chinese publications for domestic and international audiences, including a highly classified training manual for the operators of China’s nuclear forces.

Richard should know about those publications, particularly the training manual. A U.S. Department of Defense translation has been circulating within the U.S. nuclear weapons policy community for more than a decade. The commander’s comments to the committee indicate a familiarity with the most controversial section of the manual, which, in the eyes of some U.S. analysts, indicates there may be some circumstances where China would use nuclear weapons first in a war with the United States.

This U.S. misperception is understandable, especially given the difficulties the Defense Department encountered translating the text into English. The language, carefully considered in the context of the entire book, articulates a strong reaffirmation of China’s no first use policy. But it also reveals Chinese military planners are struggling with crisis management and considering steps that could create ambiguity with disastrous consequences.

Lowering the Threshold

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Towards the end of the 405-page text on the operations of China’s strategic rocket forces, in a chapter entitled, “Second Artillery Deterrence Operations,” the authors explain what China’s nuclear forces train to do if “a strong military power possessing nuclear‐armed missiles and an absolute advantage in high‐tech conventional weapons is carrying out intense and continuous attacks against our major strategic targets and we have no good military strategy to resist the enemy.” The military power they’re talking about is the United States.

The authors indicate China’s nuclear missile forces train to take specific steps, including increasing readiness and conducting launch exercises, to “dissuade the continuation of the strong enemy’s conventional attacks.” The manual refers to these steps as an “adjustment” to China’s nuclear policy and a “lowering” of China’s threshold for brandishing its nuclear forces.

Chinese leaders would only take these steps in extreme circumstances. The text highlights several triggers such as U.S. conventional bombing of China’s nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, heavy conventional bombing of large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, or other acts of conventional warfare that “seriously threatened” the “safety and survival” of the nation.

U.S. Misunderstanding

Richard seems to believe this planned adjustment in China’s nuclear posture means China is preparing to use nuclear weapons first under these circumstances. He told Hawley that there are a “number of situations where they may conclude that first use has occurred that do not meet our definition of first use.” The head of the U.S. Strategic Command appears to assume, as do other U.S. analysts, that the Chinese would interpret these types of U.S. conventional attacks as equivalent to a U.S. first use of nuclear weapons against China.

But that’s not what the text says. “Lowering the threshold” refers to China putting its nuclear weapons on alert — it does not indicate Chinese leaders might lower their threshold for deciding to use nuclear weapons in a crisis. Nor does the text indicate Chinese nuclear forces are training to launch nuclear weapons first in a war with the United States.

China, unlike the United States, keeps its nuclear forces off-alert. Its warheads are not mated to its missiles. China’s nuclear-armed submarines are not continuously at sea on armed patrols. The manual describes how China’s nuclear warheads and the missiles that deliver them are controlled by two separate chains of command. Chinese missileers train to bring them together and launch them after China has been attacked with nuclear weapons.

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All of these behaviors are consistent with a no first use policy. The “adjustment” Chinese nuclear forces are preparing to make if the United States is bombing China with impunity is to place China’s nuclear forces in a state of readiness similar to the state the nuclear forces of the United States are in all the time. This step is intended not only to end the bombing, but also to convince U.S. decision-makers they cannot expect to destroy China’s nuclear retaliatory capability if the crisis escalates.

Chinese Miscalculation

Unfortunately, alerting Chinese nuclear forces at such a moment could have terrifying consequences. Given the relatively small size of China’s nuclear force, a U.S. president might be tempted to try to limit the possible damage from a Chinese nuclear attack by destroying as many of China’s nuclear weapons as possible before they’re launched, especially if the head of the U.S. Strategic Command told the president China was preparing to strike first. One study concluded that if the United States used nuclear weapons to attempt to knock out a small fraction of the Chinese ICBMs that could reach the United States it may kill tens of millions of Chinese civilians.

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The authors of the text assume alerting China’s nuclear forces would “create a great shock in the enemy’s psyche.” That’s a fair assumption. But they also assume this shock could “dissuade the continuation of the strong enemy’s conventional attacks against our major strategic targets.” That’s highly questionable. There is a substantial risk the United States would respond to this implicit Chinese threat to use nuclear weapons by escalating, rather than halting, its conventional attacks. If China’s nuclear forces were targeted, it would put even greater strain on the operators of China’s nuclear forces.

A Slippery Slope to Nuclear War

Chinese military planners are aware that attempting to coerce the United States into halting conventional bombardment by alerting their nuclear forces could fail. They also know it might trigger a nuclear war. But if it does, they are equally clear China won’t be the one to start it.

Nuclear attack is often preceded by nuclear coercion. Because of this, in the midst of the process of a high, strong degree of nuclear coercion we should prepare well for a nuclear retaliatory attack. The more complete the preparation, the higher the credibility of nuclear coercion, the easier it is to accomplish the objective of nuclear coercion, and the lower the possibility that the nuclear missile forces will be used in actual fighting.

They assume if China demonstrates it is well prepared to retaliate the United States would not risk a damage limitation strike using nuclear weapons. And even if the United States were to attack China’s nuclear forces with conventional weapons, China still would not strike first. In the opening section of the next chapter on “nuclear retaliatory attack operations” the manual instructs, as it does on numerous occasions throughout the entire text:

According to our country’s principle, its stand of no first use of nuclear weapons, the Second Artillery will carry out a nuclear missile attack against the enemy’s important strategic targets, according to the combat orders of the Supreme Command, only after the enemy has carried out a nuclear attack against our country.

Richard is wrong. There are no holes in China’s no first use policy. But the worse-case planning articulated in this highly classified military text is a significant and deeply troubling departure from China’s traditional thinking about the role of nuclear weapons.

Mao Zedong famously called nuclear weapons “a paper tiger.” Many assumed he was being cavalier about the consequences of nuclear war. But what he meant is that they would not be used to fight and win wars. U.S. nuclear threats during the Korean War and the Taiwan Strait Crisis in the 1950s – threats not followed by an actual nuclear attack – validated Mao’s intuition that nuclear weapons were primarily psychological weapons.

Chinese leaders decided to acquire nuclear weapons to free their minds from what Mao’s generation called “nuclear blackmail.” A former director of China’s nuclear weapons laboratories told me China developed them so its leaders could “sit up with a straight spine.” Countering nuclear blackmail –  along with compelling other nuclear weapons states to negotiate their elimination – were the only two purposes Chinese nuclear weapons were meant to serve.

Contemporary Chinese military planners appear to have added a new purpose: compelling the United States to halt a conventional attack. Even though it only applies in extreme circumstances, it increases the risk that a war between the United States and China will end in a nuclear exchange with unpredictable and catastrophic consequences.

Adding this new purpose could also be the first step on a slippery slope to an incremental broadening the role of nuclear weapons in Chinese national security policy. Americans would be a lot safer if we could avoid that. The United States government should applaud China’s no first use policy instead of repeatedly calling it into question. And it would be wise to adopt the same policy for the United States. If both countries declared they would never use nuclear weapons first it may not guarantee they can avoid a nuclear exchange during a military crisis, but it would make one far less likely.

Dr. Gregory Kulacki focuses on cross-cultural communication between the United States and China on nuclear and space arms control and is the China Project Manager for the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Follow him on Twitter @gkucs.

More Killings in Kashmir Before the First Nuclear War (Revelation 8 )

Nine killed in Kashmir gun battles

SRINAGAR, India: Five security personnel and four suspected militants have been killed in two gun battles in Indian-administered Kashmir, officials said Sunday.

Tensions are high in the restive Himalayan region contested with nuclear rival Pakistan after New Delhi scrapped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in early August, with flashes of violence reported regularly.

Four army personnel, including two officers, a counterinsurgency policeman and two militants died after a firefight in the village of Changimul near the Line of Control that divides the disputed territory, said army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia.

They had entered a home to “to evacuate the civilians” but came under “heavy fire” from militants inside the building, Kalia added in the statement.

It was unclear why the men had entered the house, with a police officer, who asked to remain anonymous, telling AFP they had “walked into an ambush”.

Two suspected militants were killed by security forces Saturday in a brief shootout in the Pulwama area of the southern Kashmir valley, police said.

At least 54 militants have been killed in Kashmir this year, including more than 30 since the start of the lockdown from late March, according to an AFP tally.

Early last month at least five Indian soldiers and nine militants were killed in two separate firefights over two days in the Kashmir valley.

Near-daily cross-border firing between India and Pakistan in Kashmir has occurred regularly despite the pandemic and the ongoing Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Two Indian soldiers were killed in one such incident Saturday, authorities said.

Rebel groups have fought for decades for the Himalayan region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands dead since 1989, mostly civilians.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and sending rebels across the heavily militarized border. Islamabad denies the claims.

Russia’s Doomsday Nuclear Bomb (Revelation 16)

Russia`s lethal nuclear-powered Skif missile lies offshore and can be used as a last resort in case a war breaks out between East and West.

Russia`s Skif nuclear missile, world`s biggest `doomsday bomb`

Zee Media Bureau May 02, 2020, 14:31 PM IST,

MOSCOW: In its never-ending quest for developing lethal weapons to dominate the West, Kremlin has now designed what is being called the world’s biggest dirty “doomsday bomb”. According to international media reports, it is a kind of a sleeper weapon on the ocean floor that can be activated remotely.

Daily Star reported that Russia’s lethal nuclear-powered Skif missile lies offshore and can be used as a last resort in case a war breaks out between East and West.

Once activated, Skif missile can hit a target as far as 6,000 miles away. It travels at a speed of 60-mph and can trigger a blast that will contaminate large areas of the sea and shore with the synthetic radioactive element Cobalt-60.

According to the defence experts, the missile is intended to send a message to the world that Russia “cannot be defeated.”

Once detonated, the missile could destroy a number of ships and poison seas around the British Isles or American coast for years.

The toxic nuke is so big that it has to be lowered into the ocean from a specially adapted ship and would create devastating and long-lasting damage.

While dormant, the 25-meter, 100-ton mon­­ster can wait for years, lying on the sea-bed as deep as 3,000 feet.

In February, experts spotted a large object which they first believed was an updated version of Moscow’s “tsunami-maker” Poseidon drone but it is now believed to be the Skif.

The ship was transferred quietly to the Russian Navy on April 12 at the Arctic port of Severomorsk, Murmansk.

It is assigned to the top-secret Unit No.40056 “the Main Directorate for Deep-Water Research” and is seen as the launch vessel for the device.

As a last resort in case of a war, the Skirf missile could hit ports either side of the Atlantic and could be positioned around the Greenland-Iceland- UK gap and in the North Sea.