The Sixth Seal Is Past Due (Revelation 6:12) 

by , 03/22/11

filed under: News

New York City may appear to be an unlikely place for a major earthquake, but according to history, we’re past due for a serious shake. Seismologists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory say that about once every 100 years, an earthquake of at least a magnitude of 5.0 rocks the Big Apple. The last one was a 5.3 tremor that hit in 1884 — no one was killed, but buildings were damaged.

Any tremor above a 6.0 magnitude can be catastrophic, but it is extremely unlikely that New York would ever experience a quake like the recent 8.9 earthquake in Japan. A study by the Earth Observatory found that a 6.0 quake hits the area about every 670 years, and a 7.0 magnitude hits about every 3,400 years.

There are several fault lines in New York’s metro area, including one along 125th Street, which may have caused two small tremors in 1981 and a 5.2 magnitude quake in 1737. There is also a fault line on Dyckman Street in Inwood, and another in Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County. The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigationrates the chance of an earthquake hitting the city as moderate.

John Armbruster, a seismologist at the Earth Observatory, said that if a 5.0 magnitude quake struck New York today, it would result in hundreds of millions, possibly billions of dollars in damages. The city’s skyscrapers would not collapse, but older brick buildings and chimneys would topple, likely resulting in casualities.

The Earth Observatory is expanding its studies of potential earthquake damage to the city. They currently have six seismometers at different landmarks throughout the five boroughs, and this summer, they plan to place one at the arch in Washington Square Park and another in Bryant Park.

Won-Young Kim, who works alongside Armbuster, says his biggest concern is that we can’t predict when an earthquake might hit. “It can happen anytime soon,” Kim told the Metro. If it happened tomorrow, he added, “I would not be surprised. We can expect it any minute, we just don’t know when and where.”

Armbuster voiced similar concerns to the Daily News. “Will there be one in my lifetime or your lifetime? I don’t know,” he said. “But this is the longest period we’ve gone without one.”

Via Metro and NY Daily News

Images © Ed Yourdon

Antichrist outraged by rainbow flags, LGBT-tolerant poster

Iraq, Iran outraged by rainbow flags, LGBT-tolerant poster

May 27, 2020a

Posted by on in Middle East / North Africa | 9 Views |

In Iraq and Iran, politicians stirred up homophobic disputes focusing on the May 17 celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (Idahobit) and the May 15 celebration of the U.N.’s International Day of Families.

In Iraq, local politicians protested after Western embassies flew the rainbow flag.

In Iran, politicians and social media expressed outrage, while the conservative Mashreq News suggested that a government aide could be imprisoned for 10 years for sharing an online poster that included same-sex couples in a promotion for the International Day of Families. (See below.)


Middle East Eye reported:

Iraqi politicians call for expulsions after embassies fly LGBT flag

Iraqi political leaders have issued condemnations and called for the expulsion of diplomats following a decision by a number of foreign embassies in the country to fly the rainbow LGBT flag in honour of International Day Against Homophobia.

The European Union, the World Bank and the Canadian and UK embassies all raised the flag on Sunday, a date that commemorates the day in 1990 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed the designation of homosexuality as a mental illness.

Iraqi politicians across the spectrum slammed the embassies’ decision in response. Although homosexuality is not illegal in Iraq, the subject is highly taboo in the country.

On Sunday evening, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that homosexuality went against “the noble morals of all divine religions” and said all missions in Iraq had to “adhere by the laws of the country, and to follow diplomatic norms”.

The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr joined in the fray, too, condemning homosexuality as a “mental illness” and calling for Iraqi embassies in European countries to raise the flags of Muhammad and Jesus in response.

Sadr had previously claimed that coronavirus pandemic was a punishment sent by God in response to LGBT marriage equality.

Hadi al-Ameri, leader of the Badr Organisation and the Fatah coalition bloc in parliament, called for the expulsion of diplomats….

IraQueer logo

Amir Ashour, executive director of the IraQueer organisation, which pushes for LGBT rights in Iraq, told the Rudaw news network that the political leaders were wrong to brand homosexuality as alien to Iraq.

“We believe that diversity exists everywhere. The recognition of the LGBT+ community in Iraq, an important and valuable part of the society, is not a western export,” he said.

Rasan, a pro-LGBT human rights group based in the Kurdish region, also praised the move by the embassies to raise the flag. Some Iraqis also issued gestures of support on social media.

Others pointed out the hypocrisy in politicians getting angry at the LGBT flag being raised while saying nothing about the ongoing repression against anti-government protesters.

“They do not respect the traditions and customs of the state, because some of the clergy and the state are disrespectable, thieves and killers,” wrote Ahmed Fawzi, an actor and researcher with the Albasheer Show.

Members of Iraq’s LGBT community have repeatedly been attacked and murdered in the past. Human rights organisations have documented LGBT abuses by militias, including the Mahdi Army, Sadr’s former military arm. …

In 2016, Sadr said that although he was opposed to homosexuality, he was also opposed to violence being meted out against gay people and cautioned his followers against attacks.


Pink News reported:

Top Iranian aide apologises for ‘homosexual propaganda’ after sharing cartoon of loving lesbian and gay parents

High-ranking Iranian government aide Shahindokht Molaverdi was criticized for “promoting” homosexuality. (Photo courtesy of the Global Summit of Women)

The former aide for women’s and family affairs in Iran has been forced to apologise for sharing an innocent cartoon that was branded as “homosexual propaganda”.

On May 15 Shahindokht Molaverdi [an aide to the president of Iran] shared a poster to mark the International Day of Families on her Telegram account. Produced by the UN, the simple illustration depicted several families, including two same-sex couples with children.

Beneath it the caption read: “The structure of family has changed in the past few decades, but the United Nations still considers it as the main division of society”, adding that it is important to “support vulnerable families at times of crisis.”

The sentiment sparked outrage in the strictly conservative Muslim nation, which punishes homosexuality with the death penalty.

Pro-Iranian regime social users took to Twitter to slam Molaverdi, accusing her of promoting homosexuality by spreading “homosexual propaganda” on an official channel.

Conservative lawmaker Alireza Zakani demanded that President Hassan Rouhani condemn “this collapse of morality or lack of a minimum understanding of the notion of the family”.

And the hardline Iranian news outlet Mashreq News questioned the legality of Molaverdi’s post, pointing out that under the Islamic Penal Code any action that contributes to the spread of homosexuality is considered the same as encouragement to prostitution, and is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

The backlash was so strong that Molaverdi removed the controversial image and was forced to issued an apology for “carelessly republishing a post.” It’s not clear whether she was aware she was sharing an LGBT-inclusive poster.

The level of outrage against a simple cartoon reflects Iran’s shocking record on LGBT+ rights. Testimony from LGBT+ Iranians reveals that sexual minorities are “hounded on all sides” by a state whose laws are stacked against them.

Authorities periodically crackdown on LGBT+ people in the country, and last year Iran’s foreign minister proudly defended the execution of homosexuals on the basis of “moral principles”.

Who is Controlling Babylon the Great?

Who Are the Secret Puppet-Masters Behind Trump’s War on Iran?

As with George W. Bush’s false WMD claims about Iraq in 2003, Trump’s real goal is not nuclear non-proliferation but regime change.

Medea Benjamin

On May 6th, President Trump vetoed a war powers bill specifying that he must ask Congress for authorization to use military force against Iran. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of deadly sanctions and threats of war against Iran has seen no let-up, even as the U.S., Iran and the whole world desperately need to set aside our conflicts to face down the common danger of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So what is it about Iran that makes it such a target of hostility for Trump and the neocons? There are many repressive regimes in the world, and many of them are close U.S. allies, so this policy is clearly not based on an objective assessment that Iran is more repressive than Egypt, Saudi Arabia or other monarchies in the Persian Gulf.

The Trump administration claims that its “maximum pressure” sanctions and threats of war against Iran are based on the danger that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. But after decades of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and despite the U.S.’s politicization of the IAEA, the Agency has repeatedly confirmed that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. 

If Iran ever did any preliminary research on nuclear weapons, it was probably during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, when the U.S. and its allies helped Iraq to make and use chemical weapons that killed up to 100,000 Iranians. A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the IAEA’s 2015 “Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues” and decades of IAEA inspections have examined and resolved every scrap of false evidence of a nuclear weapons program presented or fabricated by the CIA and its allies.

If, despite all the evidence, U.S. policymakers still fear that Iran could develop nuclear weapons, then adhering to the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), keeping Iran inside the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and ensuring ongoing access by IAEA inspectors would provide greater security than abandoning the deal. 

As with George W. Bush’s false WMD claims about Iraq in 2003, Trump’s real goal is not nuclear non-proliferation but regime change. After 40 years of failed sanctions and hostility, Trump and a cabal of U.S. warhawks still cling to the vain hope that a tanking economy and widespread suffering in Iran will lead to a popular uprising or make it vulnerable to another U.S.-backed coup or invasion.

United Against a Nuclear Iran and the Counter Extremism Project

One of the key organizations promoting and pushing hostility towards Iran is a shadowy group called United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI). Founded in 2008, it was expanded and reorganized in 2014 under the umbrella of the Counter Extremism Project United (CEPU) to broaden its attacks on Iran and divert U.S. policymakers’ attention away from the role of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other U.S. allies in spreading violence, extremism and chaos in the greater Middle East. 

UANI acts as a private enforcer of U.S. sanctions by keeping a “business registry” of hundreds of companies all over the world—from Adidas to Zurich Financial Services—that trade with or are considering trading with Iran. UANI hounds these companies by naming and shaming them, issuing reports for the media, and urging the Office of Foreign Assets Control to impose fines and sanctions. It also keeps a checklist of companies that have signed a declaration certifying they do not conduct business in or with Iran.

Proving how little they care about the Iranian people, UANI even targets pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical-device corporations—including Bayer, Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Abbott Laboratories—that have been granted special U.S. humanitarian aid licenses.

Where does UANI get its funds? 

UANI was founded by three former U.S. officials, Dennis Ross, Richard Holbrooke, and Mark Wallace. In 2013, it still had a modest budget of $1.7 million, nearly 80% coming from two Jewish-American billionaires with strong ties to Israel and the Republican Party: $843,000 from precious metals investor Thomas Kaplan and $500,000 from casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Wallace and other UANI staff have also worked for Kaplan’s investment firms, and he remains a key funder and advocate for UANI and its affiliated groups.

In 2014, UANI split into two entities: the original UANI and the Green Light Project, which does business as the Counter Extremism Project. Both entities are under the umbrella of and funded by a third, Counter Extremism Project United (CEPU). This permits the organization to brand its fundraising as being for the Counter Extremism Project, even though it still regrants a third of its funds to UANI. 

CEO Mark Wallace, executive director David Ibsen and other staff work for all three groups in their shared offices in Grand Central Tower in New York. In 2018, Wallace drew a combined salary of $750,000 from all three entities, while Ibsen’s combined salary was $512,126. 

In recent years, the revenues for the umbrella group, CEPU, have mushroomed, reaching $22 million in 2017. CEPU is secretive about the sources of this money. But investigative journalist Eli Clifton, who starting looking into UANI in 2014 when it was sued for defamation by a Greek ship owner it accused of violating sanctions on Iran, has found evidence suggesting financial ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

That is certainly what hacked emails between CEPU staff, an Emirati official and a Saudi lobbyist imply. In September 2014, CEPU’s president Frances Townsend emailed the UAE Ambassador to the U.S. to solicit the UAE’s support and propose that it host and fund a CEPU forum in Abu Dhabi. 

Four months later, Townsend emailed again to thank him, writing, “And many thanks for your and Richard Mintz’ (UAE lobbyist) ongoing support of the CEP effort!” UANI fundraiser Thomas Kaplan has formed a close relationship with Emirati ruler Bin Zayed, and visited the UAE at least 24 times. In 2019, he gushed to an interviewer that the UAE and its despotic rulers “are my closest partners in more parts of my life than anyone else other than my wife.”

Another email from Saudi lobbyist and former Senator Norm Coleman to the Emirati Ambassador about CEPU’s tax status implied that the Saudis and Emiratis were both involved in its funding, which would mean that CEPU may be violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by failing to register as a Saudi or Emirati agent in the U.S.

Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy has documented the dangerously unaccountable and covert expansion of the influence of foreign governments and military-industrial interests over U.S. foreign policy in recent years, in which registered lobbyists are only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to foreign influence. Eli Clifton calls UANI, “a fantastic case study and maybe a microcosm of the ways in which American foreign policy is actually influenced and implemented.” 

CEPU and UANI’s staff and advisory boards are stocked with Republicans, neoconservatives and warhawks, many of whom earn lavish salaries and consulting fees. In the two years before President Trump appointed John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, CEPU paid Bolton $240,000 in consulting fees. Bolton, who openly advocates war with Iran, was instrumental in getting the Trump administration to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

UANI also enlists Democrats to try to give the group broader, bipartisan credibility. The chair of UANI’s board is former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, who was known as the most pro-Zionist member of the Senate. A more moderate Democrat on UANI’s board is former New Mexico governor and UN ambassador Bill Richardson. 

Norman Roule, a CIA veteran who was the National Intelligence Manager for Iran throughout the Obama administration was paid $366,000 in consulting fees by CEPU in 2018. Soon after the brutal Saudi assassination of journalist Jamal Khassoghi, Roule and UANI fundraiser Thomas Kaplan met with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, and Roule then played a leading role in articles and on the talk-show circuit whitewashing Bin Salman’s repression and talking up his superficial “reforms” of Saudi society. 

More recently, amid a growing outcry from Congress, the UN and the European Union to ease U.S. sanctions on Iran during the pandemic, UANI chairman Joe Lieberman, CEPU president Frances Townsend and CEO Mark Wallace signed a letter to Trump that falsely claimed, “U.S. sanctions neither prevent nor target the supply of food, medicine or medical devices to Iran,” and begged him not to relax his murderous sanctions because of COVID-19. This was too much for Norman Roule, who tossed out his UANI script and told the Nation, “the international community should do everything it can to enable the Iranian people to obtain access to medical supplies and equipment.”

Two Israeli shell companies to whom CEPU and UANI have paid millions of dollars in “consulting fees” raise even more troubling questions. CEPU has paid over $500,000 to Darlink, located near Tel Aviv, while UANI paid at least $1.5 million to Grove Business Consulting in Hod Hasharon, about 10% of its revenues from 2016 to 2018. Neither firm seems to really exist, but Grove’s address on UANI’s IRS filings appears in the Panama Papers as that of Dr. Gideon Ginossar, an officer of an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands that defaulted on its creditors in 2010. 

Selling a Corrupted Picture to U.S. Policymakers

UANI’s parent group, Counter Extremism Project United, presents itself as dedicated to countering all forms of extremism. But in practice, it is predictably selective in its targets, demonizing Iran and its allies while turning a blind eye to other countries with more credible links to extremism and terrorism.  

UANI supports accusations by Trump and U.S. warhawks that Iran is “the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism,” based mainly on its support for the Lebanese Shiite political party Hezbollah, whose militia defends southern Lebanon against Israel and fights in Syria as an ally of the government. 

But Iran placed UANI on its own list of terrorist groups in 2019 after Mark Wallace and UANI hosted a meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York that was mainly attended by supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Kalqh (MEK). The MEK is a group that the U.S. government itself listed as a terrorist organization until 2012 and which is still committed to the violent overthrow of the government in Iran – preferably by persuading the U.S. and its allies to do it for them. UANI tried to distance itself from the meeting after the fact, but the published program listed UANI as the event organizer.            

On the other hand, there are two countries where CEPU and UANI seem strangely unable to find any links to extremism or terrorism at all, and they are the very countries that appear to be funding their operations, lavish salaries and shadowy “consulting fees”: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Many Americans are still demanding a public investigation into Saudi Arabia’s role in the crimes of September 11th. In a court case against Saudi Arabia brought by 9/11 victims’ families, the FBI recently revealed that a Saudi Embassy official, Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah, provided crucial support to two of the hijackers. Brett Eagleson, a spokesman for the families whose father was killed on September 11th, told Yahoo News, “(This) demonstrates there was a hierarchy of command that’s coming from the Saudi Embassy to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs [in Los Angeles] to the hijackers.”

The global spread of the Wahhabi version of Islam that unleashed and fueled Al Qaeda, ISIS and other violent Muslim extremist groups has been driven primarily by Saudi Arabia, which has built and funded Wahhabi schools and mosques all over the world. That includes the King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles that the two 9/11 hijackers attended.

It is also well documented that Saudi Arabia has been the largest funder and arms supplier for the Al Qaeda-led forces that have destroyed Syria since 2011, including CIA-brokered shipments of thousands of tons of weapons from Benghazi in Libya and at least eight countries in Eastern Europe. The UAE also supplied arms funding to Al Qaeda-allied rebels in Syria between 2012 and 2016, and the Saudi and UAE roles have now been reversed in Libya, where the UAE is the main supplier of thousands of tons of weapons to General Haftar’s rebel forces. In Yemen, both the Saudis and Emiratis have committed war crimes. The Saudi and Emirati air forces have bombed schools, clinics, weddings and school buses, while the Emiratis tortured detainees in 18 secret prisons in Yemen.

But United Against a Nuclear Iran and Counter Extremism Project have redacted all of this from the one-sided worldview they offer to U.S. policymakers and the American corporate media. While they demonize Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood as extremists and terrorists, they depict Saudi Arabia and the UAE exclusively as victims of terrorism and allies in U.S.-led “counterterrorism” campaigns, never as sponsors of extremism and terrorism or perpetrators of war crimes. 

The message of these groups dedicated to “countering extremism” is clear and none too subtle: Saudi Arabia and the UAE are always U.S. allies and victims of extremism, never a problem or a source of danger, violence or chaos. The country we should all be worrying about is—you guessed it—Iran. You couldn’t pay for propaganda like this! But on the other hand, if you’re Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates and you have greedy, corrupt Americans knocking on your door eager to sell their loyalty, maybe you can.

China’s Newest Nuclear Weapons (Daniel 7)

China’s new H-20 bomber raises US fears

Depending upon its technological configuration, the H-20 could bring a new level of threat to the United States


MAY 29, 2020

Military planners will be keeping a close watch on the scheduled Zhuhai Airshow in November — depending on how things go with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why? It won’t be because they like airshows and the entertainment they offer. No, not quite.

Rather, it’s been rumoured that it is there that China will unveil its mysterious new Xian H-20 stealth bomber, an emerging platform expected to massively extend China’s attack range and present a rival to the US B-2 and emerging B-21.

“The Zhuhai Airshow is expected to become a platform to promote China’s image and its success in pandemic control — telling the outside world that the contagion did not have any big impacts on Chinese defence industry enterprises,” a source told Business Insider.

The H-20 could, of course depending upon its technological configuration, bring a new level of threat to the United States. According to a report in the New Zealand Herald, the new supersonic stealth bomber could “double” China’s strike range.

Scary scenario?

If the H-20 can extend beyond the first island chain, as the New Zealand report maintains, then it can not only hold the Philippines, Japan and areas of the South China Sea at risk, but also threaten Hawaii, Australia and even parts of the continental US, according to a report by Kris Osborn of The National Interest.

Interestingly, although much is still not known about the platform, its existence was cited in the Pentagon’s 2018 and 2019 annual “China Military Power Report.”  

The 2019 report specifies that the new H-20 will likely have a range of “at least 8,500 km” and “employ both conventional and nuclear weaponry.” 

The report cites 2016 public comments from People’s Liberation Army Air Force Commander General Ma Xiaotian announcing the development of the H-20, and saying the weapon could emerge some time in the next decades, National Interest reported.

Well, sure enough, the next decade is here and early renderings appear to parallel some of Xiaotian’s comments about Chinese intentions for the bomber. According to the Pentagon’s China report, the H-20 will “employ 5th generation technologies.”

This claim may remain to be seen to some extent, yet the Chinese have already engineered several potentially fifth-generation aircraft with the J-20 and J-31. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe they have done it on the H-20.

It does appear to be stealthy; it looks like it has an embedded engine, blended wing body, absence of vertical structures and engine air ducts woven into the frame under the fuselage, National Interest reported.

A reported range of 8,500 kilometers appears slightly less than a B-2 bomber’s range of more than 6,700 miles, Pentagon reports have raised concerns that the Chinese may also be developing a refuelable bomber.

Of even greater concern, is that such a refueler could “expand long-range offensive bomber capability beyond the second island chain.”

A refueler could also substantially change the equation and enable it to rival the mission scope of a B-2 which, as many know, successfully completed forty-four-hour missions from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to Diego Garcia during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

“The Beijing leadership is still carefully considering whether its commission will affect regional balance, especially as regional tensions have been escalating over the Covid-19 pandemic,” another source told Business Insider.

“Like intercontinental ballistic missiles, all strategic bombers can be used for delivering nuclear weapons … if China claimed it had pursued a national defence policy which is purely defensive in nature, why would it need such an offensive weapon?”

Tensions in the region have worsened in the past month with a war of words between Beijing and Washington over the pandemic, and both sides increasing naval patrols of the Taiwan Strait and South and East China seas.

The H-20 will be equipped with nuclear and conventional missiles with a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tons and a payload of up to 45 tons. It could also potentially unleash four powerful hypersonic stealth cruise missiles, each capable of destroying major targets.

Some Chinese publications also argue that the H-20 will do double-duty as a networked reconnaissance and command & control platform.

Theoretically, an H-20 could rove ahead, spying the position of opposing sea-based assets using a low-probability-of-intercept AESA radar, and fuse that information to a firing platform hundreds or even thousands of miles away. The H-20 could also be used for electronic warfare or to deploy specialized directed energy.

However, like China’s first active stealth fighter jet, the J-20, engine development of the H-20 bomber has fallen behind schedule, according to sources.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world’s first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Iraqi oil spreads to Russia (Revelation 6:6)

Russia To Expand Influence In Iraq’s Oil Heartland

By Simon Watkins – May 27, 2020, 3:00 PM CDT

With Rosneft having effectively taken control of Kurdistan’s oil and gas sector in northern Iraq through the deal done in November 2017, Russia had been looking to leverage this presence into a similarly powerful position in the south of the country. In particular, Moscow had sought to strike new oil and gas field exploration and development deals with Baghdad as part of Russia’s role in intermediating in the perennial dispute between Kurdistan and the south on the budget disbursements for oil deal. These ambitions were put on hold as Russia did not want to be associated with the increasingly overt anti-American militancy in southern Iraq that resulted in a number of strikes against U.S. military installations. Last week, though, Russia signalled that its intentions in southern Iraq are back on track, as Moscow’s ambassador to Baghdad, Maxim Maksimov, stated that: “Russian companies are willing to mobilise significant funds and have submitted an investment tender for the al-Mansouriya gas field in Diyala.”

As is the Russian way, this simple statement belies a figurative hornets’ nest of other less simple intentions, all of which though are geared towards dramatically increasing its presence in southern Baghdad, in line with that which it wields in Kurdistan and with the level of influence in southern Iraq that is being established by China. Before the recent spate of attacks against U.S. military sites in southern Iraq, Russia had stated that a number of its companies were going to spend at least US$20 billion on oil and gas projects in Iraq in the near term, including Zarubezhneft, Tatneft, and Rosneft-related oil and gas entities. These companies and others had their already-agreed projects stalled by Moscow initially as a consequence of the effective seizure of power by the now de facto leader of Iraq, radical cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, and his ultra-nationalist ‘Sairoon’ power bloc in the May 2018 Iraq elections. The projects remained slow-tracked as anti-American feeling in southern Iraq gathered momentum thereafter, particularly in the aftermath of the 2019 assassination by the U.S. of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. Related: U.S. LNG Investment Suffers As Demand Dwindles

Nonetheless, March 2018 had seen Russian state-owned energy firm Zarubezhneft (and private Iranian company, Dana Energy) sign a US$742 million deal to boost production at the Aban and Paydar oil fields in Iraq’s Ilam province near the border with Iran. At around the same time, preliminary deals had been agreed in Iran for Tatneft to develop Dehloran, for Lukoil to expand its operations into Ab Teymour and Mansouri, and for GazpromNeft to do the same in Changouleh and Cheshmeh-Khosh. In the latter two cases, both companies already have functioning operations in southern Iraq, with Lukoil active in the 14 billion barrel West Qurna 2 oil field, and Gazprom subsidiary GazpromNeft active in the 3 billion barrel Badra oil field (the Iran side of the shared field is Changouleh). Rosneft subsidiary Bashneft is also operational in southern Iraq’s Block 12.

Aside from its broad colonialist intentions, the real clue to what Russia is actually aiming to achieve with this latest manoeuvre into the Mansouriya gas field comes in two parts. The first part was that Iraq has always sought to offer three gas fields together as one development package: Mansouriya, Siba, and Akkas. These three sites form a large skewed triangle across southern Iraq, stretching from Mansouriya in the east (extremely close to the border with Iran), down to Siba in the south (extremely close to the key Iraqi Basra export hub), and then all the way west across to Akkas (extremely close to the border with Syria). Russia’s ally-in-the-making, Turkey, was offered two of the fields – Mansouriya and Siba – directly in 2011, via its national petroleum company Türkiye Petrolleri Anonim Ortakl??? (TPAO), in tandem with other partners. TPAO was also to have gradually bought into the Akkas field that was awarded in the same year to South Korea’s Korea Gas Corp (KOGAS), which was itself a partner with TPAO in Mansouriya. Russia found out within the last couple of months that to partly placate the U.S. ahead of the continued granting of waivers to import Iranian oil and gas for power generation and to partly balance out pro-Russian plans, Baghdad – supported by al-Sadr’s faction – was looking favourably on the idea of Saudi investment in Akkas. This has reportedly now been tentatively approved.

The second part of the clue was the relatively recent signing of a preliminary contract between Russia’s Stroytransgaz and Iraq’s Oil Ministry to develop the hitherto virtually unknown Block 17 in Iraq’s lawless wasteland Anbar province, a place so violent and unpredictable that it was even avoided where possible by Islamic State. The key reason why Russia took over the Block 17 site, a senior source who works closely with Iran’s Petroleum Ministry told at that time, is that the Block is right in the middle of what the U.S. military used to call ‘the spine’ of Islamic State where the Euphrates flows westwards into Syria and eastwards into the Persian Gulf, extremely close to the border with Iran. Related: 5 Points To Consider Before Buying Oil Stocks In 2020

“Along the spine running from east to west are the historical ultra-nationalist and ultra-anti-West cities of Falluja, Ramadi, Hit and Haditha, and then we’re into Syria, and a short hop to the key strategic ports of Syria – Banias and Tartus – that also happen to be extremely important to the Russians,” he said. “So, what you’re looking at there is the absolute clear sign that the Iran-Iraq-Syria oil and gas pipelines system is now going ahead, which it is, it was agreed just after the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” he underlined. “It takes time to build, of course, so in the interim the lesser triangle [Mansouriya-Siba-Block 17] offers a great route to move sanctioned Iranian oil – and anything else that Iran might want to move – either south to the markets of Asia or to the East coast of Africa or west to Syria, the Mediterranean and beyond,” he added.

For Russia, this arrangement has only upside potential. “Russia can control the movement of Iranian oil, except that which China is developing, so that it does not interfere with Russia’s own oil export routes and plans in Europe especially, while on the other side it allows for the further development of Russia’s military bases in Syria on the Mediterranean coast,” he underlined. In this context, January 2017 saw Russia sign a deal with Syria that allowed Moscow to expand and use the naval facility at Tartus for 49 years on a free-of-charge basis and enjoy sovereign jurisdiction over the base.

The deal allows Russia to keep both warships and nuclear vessels in Tartus, plus essentially anything else it wants, as the deal stipulates that at the base all personnel and material is under Russian jurisdiction not Syrian. By happy ‘coincidence’ both Banias and Tartus are also extremely close to the massive Russian Khmeimim Air Base and the S-400 Triumf missile system. Although the base only came in to operation in 2015 supposedly to help in the fight against Islamic State, Russia appears to have changed its tactical plans for it, having also signed a 49 year lease on it, with the option for another 25 year extension. A short flight away is Russia’s Latakia intelligence-gathering listening station.

By Simon Watkins for

22 Years Of Nuclearization Of South Asia (Revelation 8 )

Pakistan test Nasr missile. Photo Credit: Tasnim News Agency

22 Years Of Nuclearization Of South Asia: Current Doctrinal Postures – OpEd

Haris Bilal Malik*May 27, 2020

May 2020 marks the 22nd anniversary of the overt nuclearization of South Asia. The evolved nuclear doctrinal postures of both India and Pakistan have been a key component of their defence and security policies. During this period; India has undergone gradual shifts in its nuclear doctrinal posture. The Indian posture as set out in the 1999 ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine‘ (DND) was based on an assertion that India would pursue the ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy.

The first amendment to this posture, which came out in January 2003, was based on a review by the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) of the nuclear doctrine. It stated that if India’s armed forces or its people were attacked with chemical and biological weapons, India reserves the right to respond with nuclear weapons. This review could, therefore, be considered a contradiction to India’s declared NFU policy at the doctrinal level. On the basis of this notion, it could be assumed that India has had an aspiration to drift away from its NFU policy since 2003.

Subsequently, the notion of a preemptive ‘splendid first strike‘ has been a key part of the discourse surrounding the Indian and international strategic community since the years 2016-2017. According to this, if in India’s assessment, Pakistan was found to be deploying nuclear weapons, in a contingency, India would resort to such a splendid first strike. With such a doctrinal posture, India’s quest for preemption against Pakistan seems to be an attempt to neutralize the deterrent value of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.

In this regard, India has been constantly advancing its nuclear weapons capabilities based on enhanced missile programs and the development of its land, sea, and air-based nuclear triad thus negating its own NFU policy. This vindicates Pakistan’s already expressed doubts over India’s long-debated NFU policy. Such Indian notion would likely serve as an overt drift towards a more offensive counterforce doctrinal posture aimed at undermining Pakistan’s deterrence posture. This would further affect the strategic stability and deterrence equilibrium in the South Asian region.

India’s rapid augmentation of its offensive doctrinal posture vis-à-vis Pakistan is based on enhancing its strategic nuclear capabilities. Under its massive military up-gradation program, India has developed the latest versions of ballistic and cruise missiles, indigenous ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems in addition to Russian made S-400, nuclear submarines, and enhanced capabilities for space weaponization. In the same vein, India’s aspiration for supersonic and hypersonic weapons is also evidence of its offensive doctrinal posture.

Furthermore, India has been carrying out an extensive cruise missile development program having incredible supersonic speed along with its prospective enhanced air defence shield. Through considerable technological advancements India has shifted its approach from a counter-value to a counter-force doctrinal posture, as it demonstrates its ambitions of achieving escalation-dominance throughout the region. These technological advancements are clear indicators that India’s doctrinal posture is aimed at destabilizing the existing nuclear deterrence equilibrium in South Asia.

Pakistan, on the other hand has been threatened by India’s offensive postures and hegemonic aspirations. Consequently it has to maintain a certain balance of power to preserve its security. Pakistan’s doctrinal posture is defensive in nature and has over the years shifted from strategic deterrence to ‘full spectrum deterrence’ (FSD) by adding tactical nuclear weapons which, it claims, falls within the threshold of ‘minimum credible deterrence’.

In this regard, Pakistan too has developed its missile technology based on; short, intermediate, and long-range ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s tactical range ‘Nasr’ missile is widely regarded as a ‘weapon of deterrence’ aimed at denying space for a limited war imposed by India. The induction of ‘multiple independent reentry vehicle’ (MIRV), the development of land, air and sea-launched cruise missiles and the provision of a naval-based second-strike capability have all played a significant role in the preservation of minimum credible deterrence and the assurance of full-spectrum deterrence at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.

Contrary to India’s declared NFU policy, Pakistan has never made such an assertion and has deliberately maintained a policy of ambiguity concerning a nuclear first strike against India. This has been carried out to assure its security and to preserve its sovereignty by deterring India with the employment of Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) within the ambit of Credible Minimum Deterrence.

This posture asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression. This has been evident from recent crisis situations as well during which Pakistan’s deterrent posture has prevented further escalation. Therefore, even now Pakistan is likely to keep its options open and still leave room for the possibility of carrying out a ‘first strike’ as a viable potential deterrent against India if any of its stated red lines are crossed.

Hence, the security dynamics of the South Asian region have changed significantly since its nuclearization in 1998. The impact of this has been substantial and irreversible on regional and extra-regional politics, the security architecture of South Asia, and the international nuclear order. As has been long evident India has held long term inspiration to become a great power.

There have been continuous insinuations about the transformations in India’s nuclear doctrinal posture from ‘No First Use’ to counterforce offensive posture. The current security architecture of South Asia revolves around this Indian behavior as a nuclear state. In contrast, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is based solely on assuring its security, preserving its sovereignty, and deterring India by maintaining a credible deterrence posture.  Based on the undeniable threats from India to its existence, Pakistan needs to further expand its doctrinal posture vis-à-vis India. This would preserve the pre-existing nuclear deterrence equilibrium and the ‘balance of power’ in the South Asian region.

*The writer is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad, Pakistan.

Trump is Bent on a New Arms Race

Nuclear Arms Control, or a New Arms Race? Trump Seems Bent on the Latter.

Daryl G. Kimball

Even as the world’s nuclear-armed states squander tens of billions of dollars each year on nuclear weapons amid an epic and costly pandemic, the Trump administration is compounding the damage to global stability through ill-considered, unilateral actions that are destroying major pillars of the international security architecture. At risk are key agreements and arms control treaties that Republican and Democratic administrations have built to safeguard not only the United States but also its closest allies.

Multiple actions and comments just this month signal the administration’s intentions. In an interview published May 7 in The Washington Times, President Donald Trump’s new arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, suggested the United States may abandon the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in February 2021 unless Trump takes up a Russian offer to extend the agreement by five years. New START verifiably limits each of the two nations’ long-range (i.e. strategic) nuclear arsenals to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers.

But instead of extending New START, which effectively caps Russia’s strategic arsenal, Billingslea is doubling down on Trump’s gamble that Russia accept U.S. terms for a new arms control agreement involving not only Russia but also China. In remarks during an online discussion with the Hudson Institute on May 21, the envoy said the United States is prepared to spend Russia and China “into oblivion” in order to win a new nuclear arms race, if they don’t agree to Trump’s terms for a new deal.

Then on Friday night, May 22, The Washington Post revealed that senior Trump officials recently discussed the option of conducting the first U.S. nuclear test explosion in 28 years as a way to pressure the Russian and Chinese leaders to accept the U.S. terms. The idea itself is provocative and reckless. A U.S. nuclear test blast would certainly not advance efforts to rein in Chinese and Russian nuclear arsenals or create a better environment for negotiations. Instead, it would break the de facto global nuclear test moratorium, likely trigger nuclear testing by other states, and set off a new nuclear arms race in which everyone would come out a loser.

Unless the Trump administration comes to its senses and adjusts course—or a new presidential administration led by Joe Biden is elected and pursues a more enlightened approach—New START may disappear, other critical nuclear risk reduction agreements may fall by the wayside, and the door to an ever-more dangerous and costly global nuclear arms race will swing wide open.

Trump’s Record of Failure

The Trump administration came into office without a clear strategy to deal with what arguably is the paramount responsibility for a U.S. president: managing and reducing nuclear weapons risks. Trump arrived in the Oval Office with an irrational dislike for anything that President Barack Obama had been involved in creating but without a viable strategy for coming up with something better.

The administration’s official nuclear policy document, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, barely discusses arms control as a risk reduction tool. It passively states that “the United States will remain receptive to future arms control negotiations if conditions permit.” The result has been the dismantling of key nuclear and security agreements and failing efforts to make progress on new ones.

In 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally and formally withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a.k.a. the Iran nuclear deal, and re-imposed nuclear-related sanctions in violation of the agreement, despite the fact that Iran was meeting all of the restrictions mandated by the seven-party deal. The JCPOA had been a major success: it curtailed Iran’s capacity to produce bomb-grade nuclear material; requires a very robust international inspection system; and it prevented a major proliferation crisis and potentially a war. But Trump insisted the deal was not good enough. In addition to resuming sanctions that had been waived under the deal, he demanded more concessions from Tehran. The result; no new deal, no negotiations, and Iranian retaliatory steps to bypass many of the nuclear restrictions that were set by the original deal.

Last year, the Trump administration withdrew from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated 2,692 U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles and prohibited either country from deploying these weapons. The withdrawal followed a brief and perfunctory effort by the United States to find a resolution to allegations that Russia tested and deployed a missile in excess of the treaty’s 500 km range limit and Russian concerns the United States might use missile defense launchers in Europe for INF-prohibited offensive missiles. The U.S. withdrawal doesn’t eliminate the Russian missiles of concern, knows as the SSC-8, and now both sides are free to test and deploy INF-class missiles, which are inherently destabilizing because their relatively short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced the administration’s intention to unilaterally withdraw from yet another international security treaty that helps to keep the post-Cold War peace with Russia and is widely supported by the United States’ allies in Europe: the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. Open Skies helped preserve the post-Cold War peace by allowing the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another’s territory. This helps preserve a measure of transparency and trust, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

Like many treaties, especially one involving hundreds of flights over others’ territories, there have been troublesome implementation disputes, including restrictions set by Moscow on flight over its Kaliningrad enclave. Such problems can and should have been resolved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.

In a rebuke of Washington, 11 European nations, including France and Germany, issued a statement on May 22 expressing “regret” about the U.S. decision. They said they will continue to implement the treaty, which “remains functioning and useful.”

Though the Open Skies Treaty won’t necessarily die without the United States, it would be wounded. And the U.S. stands to lose valuable capabilities that cannot be replaced with other intelligence tools. Open Skies flights provide valuable information about Russian military exercises, they have helped counter Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and they have been used by the United States to overfly Russia’s former nuclear weapons test site.

Is New START Next?

On Feb. 5, shortly after the next presidential inauguration, New START is due to expire unless extended by mutual agreement “for a period of no more than five years unless it is superseded earlier by a subsequent agreement,” as allowed for in Article XIV of the treaty.

With eight months left before the expiration date, there is simply not enough time to negotiate, sign and ratify a new follow-on agreement. And New START is too important to throw away.

U.S. military and intelligence officials greatly value New START’s warhead and delivery-system ceilings and the associated monitoring and verification provisions, which provide predictability and transparency and help promote a stable nuclear deterrence posture vis-à-vis Russia.

Without the New START extension, the United States and Russia will be without limitations on their nuclear stockpiles for the first time since 1972. An already difficult relationship between the two nations will become far worse. Potentially, each side could rapidly upload – within months – hundreds of strategic warheads on their land- and sea-based strategic missile systems and exceed the original treaty limits. Without the treaty’s robust verification, on-site monitoring, and information-exchange requirements, each side’s confidence in assessing the other’s nuclear capabilities and plans would diminish.

For these and other reasons, all U.S. allies, in NATO and in East Asia, support the treaty’s extension. And among Americans, 80 percent of the public, based on recent polls, say they support the treaty’s extension. A bipartisan coalition in Congress supports extending New START.

In a video appearance on May 20, President Ronald Reagan’s former secretary of state, George Schultz, called on the White House to extend New START. “It’s up to us, the U.S. Let’s get going.”

But with the clock winding down on the treaty, Trump and his team continue to rebuff President Vladimir Putin’s offer to extend New START. In his Hudson Institute remarks, Billingslea made clear the administration is not satisfied with New START and may not extend it. “Any potential extension of our existing obligations [i.e. New START] must be tied to progress towards a new era of arms control,” Billingslea said, without defining “progress.”

The goal of “a new era of arms control,” he says, is a new agreement that limits both Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons and its tactical nuclear weapons, and that also involves China. Experts have debated and discussed how to move beyond talks on bilateral U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions to third-country nuclear arsenals for some time. The practical challenge is how and when. Tough rhetoric from U.S. officials will not, by itself, deliver results, given the fact that Bejing has never been part of such a negotiation and has a nuclear stockpile of about 300 nuclear weapons, which is less than one-tenth the size of the U.S. and Russian arsenals.

Not surprisingly, senior Chinese officials have repeatedly said they are not interested in an arms control deal so long as Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals remain orders of magnitude larger than theirs. Russian officials say they are open to talks with China, but it is up to the United States to bring China to the table.

When asked what should motivate the Chinese to join U.S. and Russian officials in arms control talks, Billingslea argued that “if China wants to be a great power — and we know it has that self-image — it needs to behave like one. It must demonstrate the will and the ability to reverse its destabilizing nuclear buildup, and it should engage us bilaterally and trilaterally.”

Really? Maybe that argument works for Kim Jong-un, who craves the legitimacy that is conferred by direct talks with Trump. But that isn’t going to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to agree to talks with Washington on unspecified limitations on China’s arsenal.

New Types of Russian Weapons Systems

As for U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons, negotiations to account for, reduce, and eliminate those arms are overdue, but they won’t be easy either. Russian officials say they are prepared to do so, but only if U.S. leaders are willing to address Russian concerns, including U.S. missile defenses—an issue U.S. officials say is non-negotiable.

Trump officials also say they are worried that several new types of Russian strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems may not be covered by New START. “They should simply wrap those programs up and discard them,” Billingslea told The Washington Times.

Billingslea is either ignoring or is ignorant of the fact that Moscow announced earlier this year that New START would, in fact, cover two of those new Russian systems: Sarmat, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, and Avangard, a hypersonic glide vehicle. Without an extension of New START, these weapons, like all of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons, would not be limited by any treaty. The other new Russian weapons—a nuclear-armed long-range torpedo and a nuclear-powered cruise missile—are still under development. Independent experts estimate they will not be ready for deployment before 2026, which would be after the maximum period New START could be extended in any case.

At the close of his May 21 Hudson appearance, Billingslea warned Russia and China that if they don’t agree to Trump’s terms, “the president has made clear that we have a tried and true practice here. We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion. If we have to, we will, but we sure would like to avoid it,” Billingslea claimed.

No One “Wins” Arms Races

Such bravado ignores the fact that the White House doesn’t approve federal spending, no country can afford an all-out nuclear arms race, and no one “wins” arms races.

The estimated price tag for the U.S. plan to replace and upgrade its nuclear arsenal is currently estimated to be around $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years. This plan was excessive, unaffordable and unsustainable before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, with the exploding federal debt, the need for trillions more spending for economic stimulus and relief, plus the other demands of the $700 billion plus annual defense budget, Congress will want to — and will need to — delay, trim, or even cancel some of the major elements of the nuclear modernization plan. Options for trimming the scale and the massive cost can be pursued in a way that maintains the U.S. nuclear force at New START levels, or at lower levels as part of a strategy for further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions.

A Better Way

Trump’s impulse to pursue more ambitious nuclear arms control talks is laudable; attempts to cajole adversaries with threats of further treaty withdrawals or nuclear test explosions are not. Negotiations to achieve deeper, verifiable reductions in all types of U.S. and Russian weapons are not a new idea, and they are very much overdue. After all, in 2013 Obama sought such talks to achieve a further one-third cut in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, but Putin rejected the idea.

Engaging China and the other nuclear-armed states more deeply in the nuclear disarmament enterprise is also important for international peace and security. Such negotiations, however, if they are to actually start and are to be successful, need to be pursued smartly and without threats of arms racing. They require persistence and skill, as they will complex and time-consuming.

At the moment, team Trump has no realistic chance of concluding a new agreement along these lines before New START is due to expire. It would be irresponsible to gamble away New START, or to conduct a nuclear test explosion, in a desperate attempt to coerce unilateral concessions from China and Russia on a new arms control deal. But that is what Trump’s circle of advisors seem to be contemplating.

Instead, if Trump were to agree to extend New START by five years, he would create the time and the necessary environment for a follow-on deal with Russia that addresses other issues of mutual concern, including tactical nuclear weapons and missile defenses. A New START extension also could put pressure on China to provide more information about its nuclear weapons stockpile, and perhaps agree to freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal or agree to limit a certain class of weapons, such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

The decisions made in the next few months will determine whether we face an even more complex and dangerous nuclear future, or a slightly more stable one with good options for halting and reversing the nuclear weapons competition and the risks that entails.