We really are due for the sixth seal: Revelation 6:12

Opinion/Al Southwick: Could an earthquake really rock New England? We are 265 years overdue

On Nov. 8, a 3.6 magnitude earthquake struck Buzzard’s Bay off the coast of New Bedford. Reverberations were felt up to 100 miles away, across Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and parts of Connecticut and New York. News outlets scrambled to interview local residents who felt the ground shake their homes. Seismologists explained that New England earthquakes, while uncommon and usually minor, are by no means unheard of.

The last bad one we had took place on Nov. 18, 1755, a date long remembered.

It’s sometimes called the Boston Earthquake and sometimes the Cape Ann Earthquake. Its epicenter is thought to have been in the Atlantic Ocean about 25 miles east of Gloucester. Estimates say that it would have registered between 6.0 and 6.3 on the modern Richter scale. It was an occasion to remember as chronicled by John E. Ebel, director of the Weston observatory of Boston College:

“At about 4:30 in the morning on 18 November, 1755, a strong earthquake rocked the New England area. Observers reported damage to chimneys, brick buildings and stone walls in coastal communities from Portland, Maine to south of Boston … Chimneys were also damaged as far away as Springfield, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut. The earthquake was felt at Halifax, Nova Scotia to the northeast, Lake Champlain to the northwest, and Winyah, South Carolina to the southwest. The crew of a ship in deep water about 70 leagues east of Boston thought it had run aground and only realized it had felt an earthquake after it arrived at Boston later that same day.

“The 1755 earthquake rocked Boston, with the shaking lasting more than a minute. According to contemporary reports, as many as 1,500 chimneys were shattered or thrown down in part, the gable ends of about 15 brick buildings were broken out, and some church steeples ended up tilted due to the shaking. Falling chimney bricks created holes in the roofs of some houses. Some streets, particularly those on manmade ground along the water, were so covered with bricks and debris that passage by horse-drawn carriage was impossible. Many homes lost china and glassware that was thrown from shelves and shattered. A distiller’s cistern filled with liquor broke apart and lost its contents.”

We don’t have many details of the earthquake’s impact here, there being no newspaper in Worcester County at that time. We do know that one man, Christian Angel, working in a “silver” mine in Sterling, was buried alive when the ground shook. He is the only known fatality in these parts. We can assume that, if the quake shook down chimneys in Springfield and New Haven, it did even more damage hereabouts. We can imagine the cries of alarm and the feeling of panic as trees swayed violently, fields and meadows trembled underfoot and pottery fell off shelves and crashed below.

The Boston Earthquake was an aftershock from the gigantic Lisbon Earthquake that had leveled Lisbon, Portugal, a few days before. That cataclysm, estimated as an 8 or 9 on the modern Richter scale, was the most devastating natural catastrophe to hit western Europe since Roman times. The first shock struck on Nov. 1, at about 9 in the morning.

According to one account: ”Suddenly the city began to shudder violently, its tall medieval spires waving like a cornfield in the breeze … In the ancient cathedral, the Basilica de Santa Maria, the nave rocked and the massive chandeliers began swinging crazily. . . . Then came a second, even more powerful shock. And with it, the ornate façade of every great building in the square … broke away and cascaded forward.”

Until that moment, Lisbon had been one of the leading cities in western Europe, right up there with London and Paris. With 250,000 people, it was a center of culture, financial activity and exploration. Within minutes it was reduced to smoky, dusty rubble punctuated by human groans and screams. An estimated 60,000 to 100,000 lost their lives.

Since then, New England has been mildly shaken by quakes from time to time. One series of tremors on March 1, 1925, was felt throughout Worcester County, from Fitchburg to Worcester, and caused a lot of speculation.

What if another quake like that in 1755 hit New England today? What would happen? That question was studied 15 years ago by the Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency. Its report is sobering:

“The occurrence of a Richter magnitude 6.25 earthquake off Cape Ann, Massachusetts … would cause damage in the range of 2 to 10 billion dollars … in the Boston metropolitan area (within Route 128) due to ground shaking, with significant additional losses due to secondary effects such as soil liquefaction failures, fires and economic interruptions. Hundreds of deaths and thousands of major and minor injuries would be expected … Thousands of people could be displaced from their homes … Additional damage may also be experienced outside the 128 area, especially closer to the earthquake epicenter.”

So even if we don’t worry much about volcanoes, we know that hurricanes and tornadoes are always possible. As for earthquakes, they may not happen in this century or even in this millennium, but it is sobering to think that if the tectonic plates under Boston and Gloucester shift again, we could see a repeat of 1755.

South Korea Will Soon Go Nuclear: Daniel 7

Should South Korea build its own nuclear bomb?

The once-strong alliance between South Korea and the U.S. is weakening.

In fact, the alliance is in trouble — pulled apart by powerful geopolitical forces. The only way to save it might be for South Korea to move in a direction that much of Washington considers unthinkable: to develop an independent nuclear arsenal.

The Trump years certainly damaged the relationship; President Donald Trump made clear that he thought South Korea was taking advantage of the United States. But the true root of the problem lies in two long-term trends. First, the rise of China is creating a rift between American and South Korean foreign policy priorities. Managing the growth of China’s power has become America’s primary national security goal. As the costs and dangers of countering China rise, Washington increasingly expects its allies to join in this effort.

Story continues below advertisement

But the South Koreans never signed up for that deal. Their alliance with the United States has always been about North Korea. A counterbalancing effort against China would poison South Korea’s relations with its No. 1 trading partner — which is also the most powerful country in the region. Fear of offending China partly explains South Korea’s reluctance to join “the Quad,” a U.S.-led alignment that includes India, Australia and Japan. The United States is an important player in East Asia right now; China, Koreans know, will be their neighbor forever.

The situation is made worse by a second trend: the growing sophistication of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Pyongyang has made major strides toward developing high-yield thermonuclear weapons and missiles that can carry them to the continental United States. This development fundamentally changes the alliance’s risk-reward calculus. For decades, American leaders accepted that defending South Korea could be very costly, possibly claiming the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers. But now the costs of a conflict in Korea could be truly catastrophic for the United States.

In the event of war, leaders in Pyongyang would have powerful incentives to use nuclear weapons to stalemate South Korea’s conventional military superiority. Should the United States retaliate, the American homeland would become a target. War on the Korean Peninsula could thus lead to the destruction of multiple American cities — and the political, economic and social chaos that would follow.. The American people never signed up for that deal.

Story continues below advertisement

As a result the alliance faces credibility problems. South Korea can’t be sure it can depend on its U.S. ally for protection. At the very moment that the two countries’ strategic priorities are diverging, the risks that the United States must bear to defend South Korea are growing a thousandfold. North Korea, too, may question whether Washington would rush to Seoul’s aid during a war when doing so would threaten the survival of the United States.

The U.S. says it can answer cyberattacks with nuclear weapons. That’s lunacy.

Washington and its allies faced a similar credibility problem during the Cold War. In the early 1950s, NATO members wondered whether the emerging Soviet nuclear threat to the U.S. homeland meant they could no longer rely on the United States. Would the Americans really sacrifice Boston to protect Bonn? The allies addressed this credibility problem with three partial solutions. Britain and France acquired their own nuclear arsenals. For others, NATO implemented nuclear sharing: storing some U.S. weapons on allied bases in Europe, to be transferred to the allies if war erupted. And the U.S. military stationed large ground and air forces on the continent, deploying troops with their families, to intertwine the United States in any major war from the outset. 

The United States has shown no interest in creating a Korean nuclear sharing agreement — for good reason. An agreement premised on plans to give nuclear weapons in a time of war to nonnuclear allies is legally questionable, given that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prohibits their transfer. (Indeed, NATO’s nuclear sharing exists in a legal gray area)

Story continues below advertisement

Additionally, with modern locks, such weapons would still be firmly in the control of American leaders, and hence no more credible than other elements of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Nor does the United States seem likely to increase the size of its conventional deployments on the Korean Peninsula or intertwine them with the Korean forces on the border. In fact, the number of American troops there has declined, with the forces positioned farther from the demilitarized zone.

That leaves the first option, however distasteful it may seem: South Korea may choose to acquire its own nuclear arsenal. Such a move would protect South Korea against the North Korean threat — more securely than today’s arrangement — and help the country manage its other long-term security problem: how to retain political independence in a region where China wields ever-greater power and influence.

Inside the hidden life of Kim Jong Un

Some analysts see nuclearization as a nonstarter, fearing it would make South Korea — an NPT member — a pariah like the North. But North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons was illegal, violating multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. South Korea’s would be legal and justified. The NPT’s Article X was written for precisely the circumstances that South Korea faces today. It offers a withdrawal option if a member faces “extraordinary events” that “have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” North Korea’s illegal development of nuclear weapons and its threats against the South certainly qualify as extraordinary circumstances. South Korea’s development of nuclear weapons would be a proportional response to North Korea’s actions.

Story continues below advertisement

Seoul may already be heading in this direction. Former foreign minister Song Min-soon has said that South Korea “taking its own measures to create a nuclear balance on the peninsula” is an idea “widely touted” by leaders and analysts. Seventy percent of the South Korean public endorses the move. And Seoul’s new fleet of ballistic missile submarines is an unusual acquisition: a vastly expensive way to deliver a handful of conventional missiles. Those subs, however, would make an ideal platform for a future nuclear deterrent.

A South Korean nuclear arsenal is not what Washington prefers — indeed, it goes against a core U.S. policy of preventing nuclear spread. But it might be the best course given the weakened foundation of the alliance. If Seoul decides to take this step, the United States should focus blame where it belongs — on Pyongyang’s illegal nuclear program — and render political support to a valued ally.

The Chinese Nuclear Horn Triples Her Nukes: Daniel 7

US President Joe Biden with Chinese President Xi Jinping
US President Joe Biden with Chinese President Xi JinpingCredit: Getty

WW3 fears as US blocks radioactive fuel to China over fears Beijing wants to TRIPLE its nuke stockpile to 1,000

  • 16:53 ET, Oct 6 2021

THE US has blocked radioactive fuel to China over fears Beijing wants to triple its nuke stockpile.

President Joe Biden’s administration ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to block exports to China on “national security” grounds, The Times reported.

The export of radioactive materials to China’s state-owned nuclear company the China General Nuclear Power Group is now banned under the order.

It comes after Chinese state media called for a tripling of the nation’s nuclear arsenal to fend off the “warmongering” US.

The Global Times – the newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, which has a circulation of 1.5million – published a fiery editorial last year in which it accused Washington of trying to stoke conflict with China.

Chinese military officials were urged to increase the state’s nuclear stockpile to 1,000 warheads, more than triple its current estimated size of around 300.

The newspaper – which is often seen as the unfiltered mouthpiece of Beijing – called for the increase to “deter potential impulsive military action by US warmongers”.

Meanwhile China is busy building “at least 250 long range missile silos” in three locations — sparking fears a new nuclear arms race is underway.

A third Chinese missile silo field in a remote area in Inner Mongolia has been reportedly been photographed by a European Space Agency satellite as Beijing launches its largest ever nuke expansion.

The Arms Control Association said Beijing’s rapid nuclear buildup could significantly influence President Joe Biden’s administration’s up-and-coming Nuclear Posture Review, where it decides how many nukes it needs.

The campaign organisation has estimated at least 250 nuclear long-range nuclear missile silos at three locations.

US Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas Buseyre, deputy commander of the US Strategic Command, warned China is set to overtake Russia as America’s main nuclear threat.

He told an online forum: “There’s going to be a point, a crossover point, where the number of threats posed by China will exceed the number of threats that Russia currently presents.”

China slammed Britain and America for “aggravating an arms race” after the countries announced a historic security pact to build nuclear submarines for Australia. 

The Communist regime’s Washington DC embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu accused the nations of adopting a “Cold War mentality” like the terrifying nuke stand-off between the US and the Soviet Union in the 20th century.

The three countries’ leaders unveiled the alliance dubbed AUKUS in what was seen as a move to counter China’s rising might.

This comes amid raising tensions in disputed territories such as the South China Sea and Taiwan. 

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the agreement “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race”.

He said: “The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology by the United States and Britain to Australia once again proves that they use nuclear exports as a tool of geopolitical games and adopt double standards, which is extremely irresponsible.”

He added that the deal gave regional countries “reason to question Australia’s sincerity in abiding by its nuclear non-proliferation commitments”.

He urged the Western allies to “abandon their outdated Cold War zero-sum thinking” or risk “shooting themselves in the foot”.

Russia Wants to Expand Her Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Russian icebreaker in the Arctic
The Russian “50 Years of Victory” nuclear-powered icebreaker at the North Pole on August 18, 2021.Russian state media have reported that Russia’s defence ministry is looking at creating an Arctic Fleet branch of its Navy.EKATERINA ANISIMOVA/GETTY

Russia Wants to Create Arctic Fleet Amid Mounting Tensions in Region With U.S. and China


Russia’s defense ministry is looking to create a new division of its Navy to protect its interests in the Arctic, according to Russian state media.

During the June summit in Geneva between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, the Russian leader dismissed U.S. concerns about Moscow’s militarization of the region, where China and the U.S. are jostling for power.

But the report by state news outlet Tass on Thursday signifies a new statement of intent by Russia for the region where it continues to step up its influence

The Russian Navy consists of the Baltic, Pacific, and Black Sea fleets as well as the Caspian flotilla. A source told Tass that a new division was being looked at for the region as well.

“The Russian Arctic Fleet, a new structure, is under consideration,” the unnamed source told the agency.

“It will be a separate formation within the Navy, and its responsibility will be to ensure the safety of the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic coast in the area of responsibility of the Northern and Pacific fleets,” the source added in comments reported by other Russian news outlets.

In a hint of how Moscow views its coming geopolitical threats, the source said that the new fleet would allow Russia’s Northern and Pacific fleet to focus on solving combat missions, Tass reported.

“The plan is that the infrastructure of the new association will be separate from the Northern and Pacific fleets. In the future, it will have ships and special equipment suitable for the Arctic,” the source said.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry and the Pentagon for comment.

It comes after Russia announced on Monday it has successfully launched its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile from a submarine for the first time.

After prior test launches from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, Russia said missiles were fired from the Yasen-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Severodvinsk at a target in the Barents Sea off its northern coast, in what demonstrates a new phase in Russian naval capabilities.

In August, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the development of military infrastructure in the Arctic to facilitate the troops stationed there.

This included administrative and residential complexes for servicemen on the islands in the Russian Arctic, an airfield on the Novosibirsk Islands archipelago and a military camp in the Sakha Republic, Russian media reported.

Meanwhile, CNN reported in April that satellite images showed Russia was building up its military in the Arctic where it was testing its newest weapons as the region’s ice diminishes due to the climate crisis.

CNN said the images from space showed the buildup of military bases and hardware on Russia’s Arctic coastline, with underground storage facilities likely for the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo and other new high-tech weapons.

During the summit in Geneva in June, Putin dismissed U.S. concerns about its militarization of the region as “absolutely groundless.”

“We are not doing anything new there compared to the Soviet era,” he said as he called for co-operation between Moscow and Washington in the region.

A fruitless debate on ‘no first use’ of nukes mushrooms

Debate on ‘no first use’ of nukes mushrooms in Washington

WASHINGTON ― Five years after President Barack Obama turned back from declaring a “no first use” as U.S. policy for nuclear weapons, opponents say the Biden administration is considering it too, and warn that it risks alienating allies.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said that he believes America’s allies are “very, very upset” with the idea President Joe Biden might reverse decades of U.S. nuclear policy as part of his administration’s sweeping Nuclear Posture Review, expected in 2022. The U.S. has historically maintained ambiguity about whether it would carry out a first strike with a nuclear weapon, but the policy would expressly rule it out.

“It gives more comfort to the enemy that they can plan an attack and do whatever they want to and not worry about us using a first strike,” Risch said of a “no first use” policy. “Nobody wants to use a first strike, but there are scenarios where you can imagine a first strike, and the best thing you can do is keep [adversaries] off balance.”

Risch said Tuesday that he is opposing confirmation of Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, Mallory Stewart, in connection with the matter. That complicates but doesn’t necessarily sink confirmation for Stewart, who serves as the arms control lead for the National Security Council.

Proponents of “no first use” argue it reduces the chances that China or Russia, mistakenly fearing a U.S. nuclear attack, would launch their own first strike. However, allied leaders in Europe and Asia are likely to see it as an erosion of America’s guarantee to protect them, and it would put the U.S. at odds with the strategic-ambiguity policies of NATO and nuclear-armed U.K. and France.

NATO allies, along with Japan and South Korea, have likely been speaking out against the possibility of a “no first use” policy, either to visiting U.S. lawmakers, or through their embassies in the U.S., said William Alberque, the former director of NATO’s Arms Control, Disarmament, and WMD Non-Proliferation Centre.

Declaring that nuclear weapons are only to answer nuclear weapons would worry Asian allies fearful of China and North Korea, pushing South Korea toward fielding its own nuclear arms, Alberque said. In Europe, it would signal to Russia that it can invade its neighbors without fear of a nuclear response ― and gain Washington nothing in planned arms control talks with Moscow.

“If the United States comes in and says, ‘If Russia invades NATO, we promise not to use nuclear weapons unless you nuke us,’ I think, after the Russians pull themselves off the floor from laughing hysterically, they’re going to say, ‘Wait, are you serious,’” Alberque said. “What kind of goodwill gesture is that when Russia has short-range nukes all along its border?”

Some within the administration are said to be arguing the Pentagon-led Nuclear Posture Review should take an unorthodox step and seek foreign input from across the political spectrum. The thinking is there are diverse views within allied countries when it comes to nuclear weapons policy.

“With the NPR, the question is how broad the representation will be from our allies,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear arms control expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “The conservatives and the Pentagon want to talk to the same small group of people they always talk to, who tell them what they want to hear. And the people in the Biden administration who want to take a fresh look [at nuclear arms policy] want to talk to a broader range.”

On Tuesday, Risch grilled Stewart at her nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pressing her to agree with him that allies would strongly object to potential policy change. But Stewart said it would be hard to concede that allies are objecting to the results of the Nuclear Posture Review while it was ongoing ― and that the administration was still engaging with allies to address their concerns.

“I’m not sure if I understand the term ‘strenuous objection.’ I think they’re concerned,” Stewart told Risch, adding: “I don’t even know if it’s an ‘objection.’ The point is perhaps through our engagement, we hope to explain and understand, and really hear from them further.”

Risch was frustrated, saying: “If we on the Republican side of the committee have an understanding that our allies have strong, strong objections to what you’re considering, how is it that you can’t concede that?”

Asked by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, if she personally believes in a “no first use” policy, Stewart deferred to the ongoing review and said the country has to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in a way that “extended-deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible.”

“It’s important to make sure our allies and parters understand that whatever steps we take, our commitment to their defense is unshakeable,” Stewart said.

After the hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez told reporters that he had not heard any objections like the ones Risch mentioned.

“I have not heard from any ally in any of my engagements, directly with heads of state or foreign ministers, or at a staff level ― I have not heard that,” said Menendez, D-N.J.

Neither was he personally troubled. “We’re going to be looking at [the administration’s] posture review to see what their ultimate decision is, but I’m not going to prejudge something before they say that this is what they’re going to do,” he said.

Under the Obama administration in 2016, an internal “no first use” proposal died amid opposition from the Cabinet as well as allies in Europe and Asia, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. Reportedly, Secretary of State John Kerry cited concerns raised by U.S. allies that rely on the American nuclear triad for their security and Defense Secretary Ash Carter said it would risk provoking insecurity about the U.S. deterrent among allies.

While on the campaign trail, Biden expressed a desire to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy, and his website says their “sole purpose” is to deter and, if needed, retaliate against a nuclear attack. However, since Biden took office and in the run up to the Nuclear Posture Review, there have been competing cross-currents both inside the administration and politically.

At Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks’ confirmation hearing in February, she reiterated her past position that, “I don’t believe that no-first-use policy is necessarily in the interests of the United States,” but also said, “those will be decisions ultimately made by the president.”

More recently, the Biden administration’s removal of the Pentagon official who had been leading the Nuclear Posture Review has prompted non-proliferation advocates to publicly ask whether the move was aimed at stifling views that challenge the status quo on nuclear arms.

Pentagon officials say it was part of a routine reorganization. “We’re going to continue to consider and include a wide range of viewpoints in the Nuclear Posture Review, including those from administration officials, military leaders, academics and all others,” chief Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at the time.

A number of Republicans in Congress, like Risch and Cruz, have pushed back on the idea of adopting a declaratory nuclear weapons policy, but lawmakers to their left are split. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Sen. Elizabeth Warren reintroduced a measure to codify “no first use” policy in law, but Sen. Angus King ― a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats ― has come out publicly against any change to a declaratory policy.

“I don’t support it myself. To me the whole idea of deterrence is to make our adversaries nervous,” King, who chairs the Senate’s strategic forces subcommittee, told Defense News. “I’m also concerned our allies will feel it’s an abdication of the nuclear umbrella [of protection the U.S. provides non-nuclear armed allies], and then they’ll feel they have to develop their own nuclear capacity ― which I feel would be very problematic.”

China is Not Our Enemy: Daniel 7

Jens Stoltenberg is pictured during a speech.

NATO head: China is not an enemy

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — kind of.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary-General, spoke to POLITICO about his plan to stay one step ahead of China’s advances. | POLITICO Illustration


10/06/2021 06:00 AM EDT

China is on the rise, with the world’s largest navy and on track to have the world’s largest economy. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary-General, tells POLITICO’s Ryan Heath about his plan to stay one step ahead of China’s advances. Plus: he has a message for France on the recent U.S.-Australia submarine deal.

Stay tuned after the interview for a debrief with POLITICO’s Usha Sahay, who gives her take on the contenders to replace Stoltenberg once his term ends next fall — and how the U.S.-Australia submarine deal could tip the scales.

“We don’t regard China as an adversary or an enemy. We need to engage with China on important issues such as climate change — there’s no way to reduce emissions enough in the world without also including China. We need to discuss arms control with China. So, we need to engage politically with China. At the same time, we see the rise of China. We see that China soon will have the biggest economy in the world. They already have the second largest defense budget. They have the largest navy already. They are investing heavily in new modern capabilities, including nuclear capabilities. They are leading in the use of many new disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence — also integrating that into new very advanced weapons systems. And we see a much more assertive China, for instance, in the South China Sea. All of this matters for our security and therefore NATO has to respond to that.” – Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General

Jens Stoltenberg on the future of arms agreements with Russia and China

”We have seen the demise of some very important arms control agreements over the last years, mainly because of violations by Russia — something called the INF Treaty, which banned all intermediate range weapon systems or missiles. The good news is that Russia and the United States actually were able to agree to extend something called the New START agreement, which is the agreement that put limits on the long range nuclear warheads or warheads on long range missiles. This is important because it gives us some time then to try to build on that and to make progress on the arms control agenda…And then, of course, China has to be included because China is a global power and with a global role also comes global responsibilities. And therefore, we are working to find ways to include China in arms control.”

Jens Stoltenberg on why the U.S.-Australia submarine deal is still a win for NATO

“I understand that France is disappointed. At the same time, NATO allies agreed as late as June this year at the NATO summit in Brussels with President Biden and all the other leaders that we need to work more closely with what we call the Asia-Pacific partners. It is Australia, but also New Zealand, Japan and South Korea on many issues, including cyber, but also address the maritime challenges we see in this region. And therefore, it is a good thing that NATO allies work with Australia.”

Jens Stoltenberg on how NATO is gearing up to defend itself in a post-climate change world

“On the link between climate change and security, it will affect the way we conduct military operations with extreme heat, with increased sea levels…It will affect naval bases and military installations. We have NATO soldiers operating in Iraq — they have more than 50 degrees Celsius there for many days last year. Of course it matters what kind of equipment, uniform, how to function out in these extreme weather conditions. Melting of the polar ice will change where we can operate or in the high north, and so on. So it will have a direct impact on how our military are organized and conduct their missions and operations. And then thirdly, NATO has a role to play to get down the emissions because more and more countries now agree that they should go down to net zero emissions of greenhouse gases. And then we have to also reduce emissions from military operations. We have to do that without hampering, reducing the strength, the efficiency of our armed forces. And I think that’s absolutely possible.”

The Antichrist to emerge as kingmaker in Iraqi election — with tacit American backing

Former U.S. foe likely to emerge as kingmaker in Iraqi election — with tacit American backing

BAGHDAD — Framed beneath glaring floodlights, the Sadrist campaign rally bursts with noise and color. Supporters pump emerald flags aloft as an acolyte sings the candidate’s praises through tinny speakers.

“We don’t do politics like the others do,” he bellows. “Voting for the Sadrists will bring you hope.”

The local Sadrist candidate, Hakim al-Zamili, places his hand to his chest with a small smile. Then with a nod he is on his feet and striding toward the stage. Only one week left until our victory, he tells the cheering crowd.

As Iraq readies for parliamentary elections on Sunday, the sixth ballot since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion installed a new political system, it’s the party of renowned Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that looks set to be kingmaker. Taking the largest share of the Iraqi parliament’s 329 seats would mark the culmination of Sadr’s years-long effort to consolidate power at the ballot box, on the streets and throughout the civil service.

Sadr is a storied figure both here and abroad, with a history of agitation against U.S. troops after their invasion and often fierce loyalty from tens of thousands of pious and working-class followers.

But he is also something of a shape-shifter; in the years since 2003, the cleric has positioned himself variously as a sectarian militia leader, a revolutionary figure and a nationalist who can unify the country. At times he has relied on Iranian support, but today he publicly rejects the influence of Iraq’s most powerful neighbor.

Now, for the first time, his movement’s senior leadership say that they want to use their likely dominance, forecast by voter surveys, to choose the country’s prime minister.

“You can’t have a prime minister without the support of the Sadrists now,” said Nasser Al-Rubaie, head of the movement’s political wing. Across the spectrum, including in the office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraqi politicians agree.

It remains unclear whether Sadr’s movement would maintain its current support for Kadhimi and back him for a second term in office. The ultimate decision would also require buy-in from powerful Iranian-backed and Kurdish political groupings.

Despite Sadr’s fraught history with the West, his party probably would ascend with at least tacit backing from Washington.

“They have sought increasing international legitimacy as a state-bearing party. This is why we’ve seen the Sadrists interacting much more with Western countries, including the Americans and the Europeans,” said Lahib Higel, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Sadr has been selling himself as a viable option, and a central one in Iraqi politics.”

 A senior Western official said, “I think at this point we view Sadr as a nationalist who is just better than the other options.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the press.

In recent months, the Sadrists have walked a more careful line than Iraqi parties aligned with Iran, which have called for the expulsion of the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq.

“We are against the existence of any foreign forces on Iraqi soil. When it comes to logistics support with training, equipment and airspace, that is not a political issue. We leave the decision on that to those who are specialized in these matters,” said Rubaie, indicating that a noncombat role for U.S. troops could be acceptable.

The Sadrists have cast themselves as the protector of a swath of Shiite working-class Iraqis. Sadr’s father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was a leading figure in the resistance against Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein and was killed for it. After the U.S.-led invasion, Sadr’s Mahdi Army won popular support for defying the American occupation.

Today, Sadr’s movement provides many supporters with jobs and services across ministries and businesses it controls, as well as employment in the ranks of its armed wing, Saraya al-Salam.

The Sadrists have consolidated their influence throughout the Iraqi government by taking control of key positions within the civil service. According to research by the London-based Chatham House think tank, Sadrist loyalists now hold the largest share of these positions, known as “special grades,” which has in turn allowed them to divert vast amount of public resources for the movement’s own purposes.

To ensure the money keeps flowing, the Sadrists have won control of the body that fills civil service positions, at times endorsing technocratic ministers without party affiliation who in practice have less authority than the civil servants below them.

“On day one, I realized that there were just stacks of contracts that they were waiting for me to sign,” said one such former minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his security. “They just wanted the rubber stamp.”

Over the years, Sadr’s group has been accused by government officials and human rights monitors of widespread abuses. During the civil war, the Mahdi Army ran death squads. Zamili, the political candidate, was imprisoned for allegedly using his position as health minister to divert resources for sectarian kidnapping and murder. More recently, Saraya al-Salam, have been accused of extortion and assassinating political opponents.

The Sadrists are the dominant force in the Health Ministry, and this summer, Sadr briefly withdrew from the election campaign amid a public uproar after a pair of hospital fires in Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriyah incinerated two wards of coronavirus patients. Corrupt government contracting, blamed on the Sadrists, has routinely left major hospitals without fire safety measures, according to researchers.

Kadhimi has hailed the decision to call early parliamentary elections as a response to street protests urging the overthrow of the political system. Security forces quashed those demonstrations with deadly force, killing more than 600 people in a matter of months.

Trust between Iraq’s people and its politicians has cratered over recent years, and turnout at the polls is likely to be among the lowest in the country’s history, according to voter surveys.

Even the Sadrists seem concerned. On Sunday, a somber-faced Sadr made a rare public appearance alongside one of the movement’s candidates. Hours later, he tweeted that every voter should bring 10 more with them to the polls.

“Sadrist electoral tactics have been particularly aggressive this election campaign, indicating a slight desperation within the movement over disillusionment, particularly among the younger generation of Sadrists,” said Ben Robin-D’Cruz, a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University in Denmark who studies the group.

At Zamili’s rally in Baghdad’s sprawling district of Sadr City last week, supporters said that he and the Sadrist movement he’s part of would provide them a greater sense of dignity and belonging than other political groups.

“No one else can save Iraq,” Hayder al-Helfi, 47, commented as he picked through the crowd that had gathered on the turf pitch.

Amal Latif, a 40-year-old widow and mother of four, said that Zamili was known in the neighborhood for opening his house to supporters so they could ask for help with their problems. “We’re so poor, we need help from someone,” she said, clutching the Sadrists’ emerald flag to her chest. A campaign staffer stood close by her as she spoke. He later said that she had been paid to attend the rally.

As the event wound down and supporters flooded to the exits, the floodlights glared brighter than anything else on the streets around them. The streetlights were out. Cars edged past potholes. In the darkness, volunteers dressed in party tabards were laying the stones for a new sidewalk while a former voter watched on.

“They always do this around election time,” sighed Ahmed Ali, a government worker. “Let’s see what they do for this place after the elections.”