By Meteorologist Dominic Ramunni Nationwide PUBLISHED 7:13 PM ET Aug. 11, 2020 PUBLISHED 7:13 PM EDT Aug. 11, 2020
People across the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic were shaken, literally, on a Sunday morning as a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck in North Carolina on August 9, 2020.
Centered in Sparta, NC, the tremor knocked groceries off shelves and left many wondering just when the next big one could strike.
Compared to the West Coast, there are far fewer fault lines in the East. This is why earthquakes in the East are relatively uncommon and weaker in magnitude.
That said, earthquakes still occur in the East.
According to Spectrum News Meteorologist Matthew East, “Earthquakes have occurred in every eastern U.S. state, and a majority of states have recorded damaging earthquakes. However, they are pretty rare. For instance, the Sparta earthquake Sunday was the strongest in North Carolina in over 100 years.”
For example, across the Tennesse River Valley lies the New Madrid Fault Line. While much smaller in size than those found farther west, the fault has managed to produce several earthquakes over magnitude 7.0 in the last couple hundred years.
In 1886, an estimated magnitude 7.0 struck Charleston, South Carolina along a previously unknown seismic zone. Nearly the entire town had to be rebuilt.
The eastern half of the U.S. has its own set of vulnerabilities from earthquakes.
These older rocks have had much more time to bond together with other rocks under the tremendous pressure of Earth’s crust. This allows seismic energy to transfer between rocks more efficiently during an earthquake, causing the shaking to be felt much further.
This is why, during the latest quake in North Carolina, impacts were felt not just across the state, but reports of shaking came as far as Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 300 miles away.
Reports of shaking from different earthquakes of similar magnitude.
Quakes in the East can also be more damaging to infrastructure than in the West. This is generally due to the older buildings found east. Architects in the early-to-mid 1900s simply were not accounting for earthquakes in their designs for cities along the East Coast.
When a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck Virginia in 2011, not only were numerous historical monuments in Washington, D.C. damaged, shaking was reported up and down the East Coast with tremors even reported in Canada.
There is no way to accurately predict when or where an earthquake may strike.
Some quakes will have a smaller earthquake precede the primary one. This is called a foreshock.
The problem is though, it’s difficult to say whether the foreshock is in fact a foreshock and not the primary earthquake. Only time will tell the difference.
The United State Geological Survey (USGS) is experimenting with early warning detection systems in the West Coast.
While this system cannot predict earthquakes before they occur, they can provide warning up to tens of seconds in advance that shaking is imminent. This could provide just enough time to find a secure location before the tremors begin.
Much like hurricanes, tornadoes, or snowstorms, earthquakes are a natural occuring phenomenon that we can prepare for.
The USGS provides an abundance of resources on how to best stay safe when the earth starts to quake.
Analysis As Israel Closes in on West Bank Militants, It Risks War With Gaza
With his back against the wall, political considerations might affect Bennett’s strategic moves. Dramatic shifts in the prime minister’s office and major national days make fertile ground for a flare-up
Alongside the stormy incidents and difficult photographs from the ground in recent days, several political developments and their possible consequences are worth noting. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appears determined to remain in office and is willing to pay the necessary price.
On Friday he managed to remove a potentially rebellious lawmaker from his Knesset caucus and replace him with a minister who had to resign. He bid farewell to his political advisor, apparently his closest confidante in his office. Beyond the typical missteps of governments on the final lap of their term, one can expect Bennett’s conduct in the political and diplomatic realms to be affected.LISTEN: Why an Islamist Party Just Saved Israel’s Government
Before entering office, on some occasions, Bennett was known to make seemingly impulsive comments and decisions. His outgoing political advisor, Shimrit Meir, was to some extent the last person in Bennett’s inner circle who could put the brakes on his half-baked moves and security capers. Now, with the exception of his political advisors, only the head of the National Security Council, Eyal Holata, remains. But Holata rarely handles the Palestinian issue, which is currently at the top of Bennett’s agenda.
In Israel, as always, political and strategic considerations are linked. Politically, Bennett has his back to the wall. He is dealing with a new terror wave that is eight weeks in and showing no sign of abating.
The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service have focused their efforts and intelligence resources in the West Bank. The army has deployed large forces along the Green Line. Now that Ramadan is over, the army has gone back to conducting arrest sweeps in the northern West Bank.Israeli police confront with mourners as they carry the casket of Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in East Jerusalem on Friday. Maya Levin/AP
But none of this has been enough to seal off the seam line to the terrorists that are reaching central Israel at a rate of about one a week. The separation barrier has been completely breached. Repairing it will take several weeks and the nine and a half battalions deployed along the breaches will eventually have to go back to training.
The conditions are frustrating and challenge the already complex relationship between Bennett and the IDF brass. The continued attacks will increase pressure on the IDF General Staff to provide solutions – such as assassinating Hamas leaders, an assault on the Gaza Strip or a broad operation in and around Jenin in the West Bank. As this column has already stated, the army brass has its own reasons to hold back, not all of which are germane. The IDF is overly invested in the narrative that it vanquished Hamas in the last round of fighting a year ago, Operation Guardian of the Walls – and hence, Hamas cannot be responsible for the current wave of terror as it has already been deterred.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone at the professional level would presently support an operation in Gaza. If the take is given to the army, it might be dragged into an operation that it doesn’t believe in and the results will reflect that. On the political level as well, Bennett could find himself increasingly at odds with ministers Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz (the latter having been subjected to a long lesson on patriotism by the anchors of the Channel 12 current affairs show “Ofira and Berko”).
Compared to Gaza, Jenin is an easier target. In any case, IDF forces operate there on a near daily basis, and every entry into the city or adjacent refugee camp is greeted with massive gunfire. The ongoing friction already has Israel a half step away from an operation in the area. The number of militants killed grows from operation to operation, fueling Palestinian feelings of revenge.Palestinians take part in a demonstration in support of Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ political chief, in Gaza City, last week. MAJDI FATHI/NurPhoto via AFP
While Hamas propaganda feeds worries about an Israeli takeover of the Temple Mount, some of the terrorists who came from the Jenin area on killing sprees within the Green Line came to avenge the deaths of their friends. More and more fuel is being added to the fire – the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin, the police killing of an East Jerusalemite struck by a sponge-tipped bullet on Saturday morning at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Nakba Day, which is marked on Sunday.
However, it would be difficult to completely separate what is happening in Jenin from Gaza. Islamic Jihad is very active in both places, and has already threatened to launch rockets from Gaza if its people continue to be killed in the West Bank. Recent history notes the 2014 abduction of three young men in Gush Etzion, which led to Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip about a month later. Operation Guardian of the Walls began with Hamas rocket fire at Jerusalem in solidarity with Palestinians clashing with police in the Old City during Ramadan.
Callous brute force
Meanwhile, events in the West Bank are not calming down. On Friday afternoon, the IDF released the interim conclusions of its probe into Abu Akleh’s death. Between the lines of the IDF spokesperson’s statement and statements by senior officers, it appears that it is possible Abu Akleh was accidentally shot by a soldier from the elite Duvdevan unit. However, because the Palestinian Authority is refusing to give up the bullet that killed the journalist for ballistic examination, and refused an autopsy, we will likely never know the full truth.
The probe indicates that the Duvdevan soldiers, who had come to arrest an Islamic Jihad operative, fired at least six rounds at the boundary between the refugee camp and Wadi Brukin, the eastern neighborhood of the adjacent village. In one instance, a soldier who fired was about 190 meters away from Abu Akleh.
He was sitting in a jeep, armed with a rifle with a telescopic lens, and shooting through a firing slit. The soldier aimed at an armed Palestinian who emerged three times from behind a wall and opened fire on the jeep. The journalists were a short distance behind the Palestinian. Firing from inside the jeep creates a limited field of vision: The soldier said when questioned that he did not see Abu Akleh and did not know he had shot her.
According to the investigation, there were more armed Palestinians behind the journalists that were firing at the soldiers. It cannot be determined whether Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli or Palestinian fire, so long as there is no ballistic examination.
On Friday morning IDF forces returned to Brukin, and surrounded a house about 300 meters from the spot where Abu Akleh was shot and where a wanted man was hiding. It was reported that the man was suspected of carrying out shooting attacks.
The IDF confirmed claims by Palestinian sources that he was the same man seen shooting at soldiers from an alleyway in the refugee camp in footage taken near the time Abu Akleh was shot. In the meantime, the possibility that Abu Akleh was shot in the exchange of fire that was depicted in that footage has been dismissed, but the army has avoided saying whether the arrest was intended to investigate the circumstances of her death.
For hours, an elite force of the police anti-terror unit laid siege to the house where the man was hiding, firing anti-tank missiles. The forces were under heavy fire. After the suspect and his brother gave themselves up, Warrant Officer Noam Raz was shot in the back and killed. Raz was the 20th Israeli killed in recent months – a high price that shows the extent to which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still an open wound.
Alongside the question of what precisely the goal of the operation was, there is a question of timing. During Ramadan, the IDF preferred to conduct arrests during the day to avoid large crowds in the streets after breaking the fast. But Ramadan is over. Operating in daylight increases the chances of hitting non-combatants. It also eliminates the advantage provided by Israeli forces’ advanced night-vision equipment.
That was not the last incident. As the operation in Wadi Brukin wound down, crowds gathered for Abu Akleh’s funeral in East Jerusalem. The circumstances surrounding the well-known journalist’s death made the funeral into a national Palestinian event.
Police were well aware of this and beefed up their forces. They conducted extensive talks with the organizers about arrangements for the funeral procession. According to police, all of the agreements were breached and stones were thrown at them.
That cannot justify the scenes that circulated all around the world: Dozens of armed police struck mourners with batons, nearly overturning the casket. The Jerusalem police, who showed impressive restraint during Ramadan this year (in stark contrast to Ramadan last year), failed shamefully. It was a display of callous brute force.
On television panel shows that night, participants spoke of unprecedented damage to Israel in the eyes of the international community, including a hesitant condemnation from the White House. But that’s not the point. This is not how human beings treat other human beings. These images arouse a deep feeling of shame. The police violence is apparently connected to other incidents. Shortly before the pallbearers were attacked, the police and army learned that Noam Raz had been killed at Wadi Brukin.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev rightly compelled Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to appoint a team to investigate the incidents. It remains to be seen how much room to maneuver the police brass will give the team, itself composed of police officers.
If anyone had hoped that Nakba Day would pass in a slightly more restrained manner, those hopes have been dashed. The stormy month of May will continue at least until Jerusalem Day, in two weeks, and no one can promise that things will calm down afterward.
“He asked lots of questions,” said the official who led the briefing, the Indo-Pacific Co-ordinator in Biden’s National Security Council, Kurt Campbell. “He wanted to be convinced.”
The Australians were asking for the crown jewels in the national security vault, one of America’s remaining decisive advantages over China. The US had shared its nuclear sub secrets with only one nation, Britain, in 1958. Much had changed since.
AUKUS announcement: Scott Morrison at the virtual joint press conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden. AAPnone
The transformational power of nuclear-propelled subs is that they could allow Australia to pose a direct threat to the Chinese mainland. For the first time. It had come to that.
With unlimited range because they never need to refuel, and with vertical launch tubes for firing missiles, a nuclear-propelled submarine could stand off China’s coast and threaten it with cruise missiles.
Australia’s existing fleet of submarines, the six diesel-powered Collins class, is equipped with torpedo tubes only. Which means it can fire torpedoes at targets in the water but not missiles at targets on land.
But it had been a 40-year fantasy of Australian governments to get American nuclear propulsion. Canberra had been turned down every time. Indeed, no earlier request had even reached the president’s desk. The US Nuclear Navy, guardians of the technology, had ruled it out of the question.
On the positive side of the ledger, the top consideration was that it would help counter China. The People’s Liberation Army Navy has the advantage over the US in warfighting on and above the ocean. Arming an ally with nuclear-powered subs would help blunt China’s edge.
Nuclear-propelled submarines “are fast, they have stamina, they bring a whole spectrum of weapons, and if you are China, how are Australian and US forces working together?” poses the former chief of US Naval Operations, retired Admiral Jonathan Greenert.
“You don’t know their sovereign decisions. Your imagination is your biggest nightmare – what could they be doing? They can reposition fast, 25 knots [46km/h] for a full day. If an adversary says, ‘I’ve got a detection of a nuclear sub’, great – when? Two days ago. Then you draw a circle on the map and see where it might be. It’s a big circle.”
The US today has 68 submarines, all nuclear-powered. China has an estimated 76 subs, of which 12 are nuclear-powered. But the US fleet is shrinking as it retires older subs faster than it can build new ones. China’s nuclear-powered fleet is expanding. The AUKUS agreement aims to help Australia acquire eight.
Second, it would cement the alliance with Australia. Just a few years earlier, many in the US foreign policy community including Campbell had tipped Australia to be the ally most vulnerable to China’s influence, that it would “flip” and align with Beijing.
Third, it would help the US to deter China’s expansion through the Indo-Pacific. It would signal US commitment to the region and to US allies, reassuring other Indo-Pacific nations who might be doubting American staying power. “The president said, ‘this could be quite powerful’,” according to an official who was present.
But on the other side of the ledger, Biden himself raised four big concerns with the Australian request. First was nuclear proliferation. Since the deal with Britain in 1958, Washington, London and Canberra, among others, had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If we give the Australians this technology, won’t we be in breach of the treaty, Biden wanted to know?
Second was the response from China. How will Beijing react if we agree to this? Will it provoke Xi Jinping into accelerating his own naval build-up, into getting more aggressive?
Third was Australia’s capability. Would the Australian political system be capable of bipartisan commitment for the decades required? Is Australian politics stable enough? Could Australia afford the price tag?
Fourth, would the US Nuclear Navy be prepared to deliver? This had been the obstacle to every other Australian inquiry. This elite priesthood is the guardian of the fast, stealthy, underwater Doomsday machines that are America’s last line of defence.
America’s nuclear warfighting is structured on a “triad” – ground-based, airborne and undersea forces. The ground-based and airborne forces are the most vulnerable to enemy attack. But even if these are destroyed in a surprise first strike by an enemy, its nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed subs are designed to survive, undetected in the dark depths, to deliver annihilation to the enemy. By guaranteeing “second strike” capability, they deter any adversary from even thinking about launching a first.
Australia was not asking for nuclear weapons; it was content to arm its subs with conventional missiles. And Canberra was not so much concerned about nuclear Armageddon. Australia has entrusted that responsibility to the US, sheltering under America’s nuclear “umbrella”. Australia was feeling threatened by China and wanted the capacity to threaten it in return.
As the discussion around the White House table unfolded last year, other concerns emerged. The group included Secretary of State Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley.
What if we attempt this three-way agreement with Australia and Britain and it fails? The credibility of all three nations would be damaged. Have the Australians consulted fully with the French about their contract? Do we risk alienating one ally to gratify another?
The meeting broke up without a decision and with big questions needing to be answered. In the meantime, Australia had a contract with Paris – and French President Emmanuel Macron was deeply invested in it.
“Ambition”. That was the one-word brief that Macron personally gave his ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thébault, when he sent him to Canberra in 2020. The president urged his ambassador to be ambitious and imaginative in expanding the relationship. The submarines were to be the strategic anchor, evidence of shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is code for resisting China’s expansionism.
Macron thoroughly charmed Australia’s previous defence minister, Linda Reynolds, for instance. He made sure she was invited to the launch of the first of France’s newest class of nuclear-powered submarines, the Barracuda, in the Normandy seaside city of Cherbourg, in 2019. He arranged for her to tour the sub’s interior, which she found impressively spacious, with no head-ducking required.
As Macron pressed a ceremonial launch lever, it illuminated a video art installation designed to evoke the sights and sounds of the ocean along the sub’s sides. “You,” Macron addressed the workers who’d built the boat, “are building the independence of France. It’s our very status as a great global power.”
L’Express newspaper had hailed Australia’s order for 12 diesel-powered French submarines, nicknamed the shortfin Barracuda and also known as the Attack Class, as “the contract of the century”. Malcolm Turnbull’s government had put the deal in place and in February 2019 while Scott Morrison presided over the formal signing of the Strategic Partnering Agreement to allow it to proceed.
In France, national pride and national honour were engaged, not to mention French economics – it was the biggest defence export contract France had signed, and the biggest Australian acquisition. The contract value was $50 billion but adjustments for inflation and extras took the total deal to at least $90 billion.
Macron’s charm soon wore off. Reynolds found herself in a ritual quarterly exchange with her French counterpart, Florence Parly. “She’d begin each meeting by telling me what her department had told her. Then I’d have to tell her, no, this is the situation, and I’d start unpacking it,” Reynolds told colleagues.
Thoroughly charmed: French President Emmanuel Macron made sure then defence minister Linda Reynolds, seen here with her French counterpart Florence Parly, was invited to the launch of the first of France’s newest class of nuclear-powered submarines, the Barracuda, in Cherbourg in 2019. Abacanone
This was the frustration phase of the contract with the builder, Naval Group, the new name for the state-owned shipbuilder founded four centuries ago by the famed strategist and prime minister, Cardinal Richelieu, who, incidentally, was the inventor of the table knife. He wanted France to muscle up to English naval power and the enterprise was born.
But in early 2020, only a year after the deal was signed, the Australian National Audit Office reported that the design phase was running nine months late. It could not verify that the initial outlay of nearly $400 million had been spent effectively, it said. And it revealed that the government’s expert submarine advisory group had questioned the viability of the whole plan at its very earliest phase.
“Alarm bells are ringing,” said the only former submariner in parliament, South Australia’s independent Senator Rex Patrick. The government, he said, should consider a Plan B.
Reynolds defended the French deal in public: “The first Attack Class submarine is scheduled for delivery to the Royal Australian Navy in 2032. The Australian National Audit Office report confirmed there has been no change to this delivery timeframe or budget.”
But in private Reynolds agreed with Patrick and the other sceptics: French Defence Minister Florence Parly “was working with us in good faith, but I started to discuss with the PM, ‘is there an alternative if this falls over’?”
Within six months of winning the May 2019 election, Scott Morrison was worried enough to tell Macron personally of his growing concerns. He was frustrated with the time it was taking, the difficulties with design and the lack of responsiveness. Morrison relayed this to Macron, who replied: “Keep me informed.”
Towards the end of 2019, Morrison started to ask his closest advisers about fallback options, including nuclear-propelled ones. They told him of the joyless history of Australian requests for nuclear propulsion and that the likelihood of getting the technology from the US or Britain was “very, very low”. And they warned him that Australia would need a civil nuclear industry. Without one, it couldn’t maintain the nuclear reactors that drive the boats. On March 19, 2020, two months after the Audit Office report, the prime minister took the first formal step towards exploring contingencies.
Secretly, he asked the secretary of the Defence Department, Greg Moriarty, for a discussion paper about all the options, including nuclear-propelled ones. He had the result within a fortnight.
The next month, Macron replaced the global chief executive of Naval Group, a step applauded in Canberra. The new boss, Pierre Eric Pommellet, was considered more amenable to Australia’s concerns. The prime minister felt encouraged that Macron was making an effort to get the deal back on track.
Morrison decided to take the next step regardless. In May, 2020, he asked Moriarty and the military co-leader of the Defence Department, Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, to form a small, expert group to see whether it was feasible for Australia to acquire and operate nuclear-powered subs. The top-secret exercise was led by the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan.
It came back with the conclusion that it was potentially feasible, but on two conditions. One, it was only possible with the help of the US, Britain or both. This was the only way Australia could operate nuclear-powered subs without setting up a civil nuclear industry to support them.
America and Britain use highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium to run their subs’ reactors. That means the reactors don’t need refuelling for the life of the boat itself, some 30 years.
Two, the same consideration ruled out the French nuclear-propelled sub, the big Barracudas Macron had launched so proudly, as an option. The French use low-enriched uranium, meaning their reactors need to be refuelled every decade or so in a lengthy process called full-cycle docking. This would keep the Australian fleet permanently dependent on Paris.
Moriarty’s opinion was that this would not be a sovereign Australian capability. Unless Australia started its own civil nuclear industry to refuel and maintain the reactors, something which Morrison would not countenance.
Tantalised, Morrison immediately asked Defence to contact the Pentagon to test its assumptions. Through a series of secure video conferences between the Pentagon and Defence’s headquarters on Russell Hill, the US Navy gave a guarded endorsement, summarised by an Australian official: “There’s nothing in your thinking that’s completely implausible”. But there was no enthusiasm from the Americans and certainly no commitment to help.
For the prime minister, this was a “game changer” nonetheless, as he’s described it to colleagues. The revelation: It was possible to have a nuclear-powered attack submarine, or SSN as navies call it, without needing to service the reactor.
To now, Morrison had briefed only two members of his cabinet, Linda Reynolds and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne. But now that he envisaged raising the idea with the American president and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he decided to widen the circle.
When he briefed Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, he met an enthusiastic response. He remarked that the politics in the three capitals of Washington, London and Canberra seemed to be in alignment. “You could never do this deal with (the former leader of British Labour) Jeremy Corbyn,” said Frydenberg. “When a gate like this opens, you go through it.”
But what of the multibillion-dollar cost of cancelling the French deal and the far greater cost of building SSNs? “Everything is affordable if it’s a priority,” was the treasurer’s attitude. “This is a priority.”
Morrison then took it to the National Security Committee of his cabinet. This is the overarching mechanism for co-ordinating defence and security and includes top officials and ministers responsible for defence, foreign affairs, home affairs and intelligence. It gave Morrison the green light to take it further. “It was a high level of secrecy because there was no guarantee we could pull it off,” Morrison told colleagues. He didn’t want to disrupt progress with the French toward a conventional sub in case he failed with the Anglo American nuclear option, and end up with neither.
Morrison kept it so tight that the PM’s personal permission was required before any official could be brought into the charmed circle, a top civil servant explained. “So if anything leaked, you knew you’d be personally accountable to the PM himself,” said the official.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Rear-Admiral Jonathan Mead during a Senate estimates hearing. Mead was a crucial choice to lead the pursuit of SSNs. Alex Ellinghausennone
Donald Trump lost the US election around this time. Morrison decided it was pointless to approach the outgoing president, but he would pursue the incoming one at the first opportunity.
In the meantime, Morrison wanted to see what the Brits might be able to offer. In February 2021, Defence made contact with Whitehall. The British Navy was encouraging but non-committal.
In the same month, Linda Reynolds instructed the ADF’s General Campbell to advise the government on how to give Australia strike power. It was part of the government’s awakening to Australia’s strategic puniness against its great rival, China.
Australia then, and now, had no long-range strike capability whatsoever. None on land, none in the air force, none in the navy. The ADF was set up for counterinsurgency wars as part of a US alliance like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and low-level conflict in the Pacific Islands like the missions in East Timor and the Solomons, but was unprepared for high-intensity warfighting with a capable nation state.
Reynolds tasked the Capability Enhancement Review with recommending the strike power Australia needed. One part was to be the nuclear subs project. Campbell made a crucial choice by appointing Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead, a one-time clearance diver with a PhD on Indonesia and merit awards for skippering 186 Persian Gulf boardings in six months of the Iraq war in 2005, to lead the pursuit of SSNs.
Eventually, the moment arrived for Australia’s first approach to the Biden White House. Mid-pandemic, there had been very few openings to allow travel between Canberra and Washington. And this proposal was considered too sensitive for anything but face-to-face discussion.
In May 2021, the moment came. The director-general of Australia’s peak intelligence assessment agency, the Office of National Intelligence, Andrew Shearer, was planning a routine visit to Washington to consult with his US counterparts. He’d been briefed on the nuclear subs project. Would you like me to broach it with the White House, he asked the prime minister? Morrison agreed. Shearer managed to sidestep the Russian roulette of Australia’s vaccine rollout with the help of doctors at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
When the softly spoken Australian spy walked into the West Wing of the White House, his American interlocutors knew only that he wanted to discuss a matter of “the utmost sensitivity”. He walked into the ornate, chandeliered office of the National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, with only one other person present, Kurt Campbell, one of Sullivan’s senior staff and Biden’s Indo-Pacific co-ordinator.
Shearer and Campbell had known each other for decades. He explained what Australia wanted. “As China’s capability advances, we need to have submarines capable of meeting it. We need to be able to operate without the risk of easy detection by the Chinese,” Shearer said, according to the participants.
Top spy: National intelligence chief Andrew Shearer broached the plan with the White House in April 2021. Louie Douvisnone
Shearer told the Americans that the Coalition government had chosen the French diesel-powered option when it expected to be contesting the waters in its near neighbourhood and dealing with low-level threats. But “the security circumstances have changed dramatically and the only way we can remain strategically relevant in highly contested circumstances is if we have the ability to launch cruise missiles over long distances”.
My sources didn’t put it quite this bluntly, but everyone in the room understood that this was about Australia acquiring the power to pose a direct threat to China’s forces and the Chinese mainland.
Sullivan and Campbell immediately were interested. Biden has described the US rivalry with China as “the competition for the 21st century”. With this request, Australia was choosing sides emphatically.
Campbell told me afterwards: “What most countries do when grappling with relevance, when risks and costs are enormous, is they just opt out. Australia chose relevance.” It was “a bold and important idea”.
Shearer emphasised that Australia had no intention of developing a civil nuclear industry or developing nuclear weapons. He said that Canberra was satisfied it could operate the subs while preserving Australia’s strong record on nuclear non-proliferation.
Sullivan and Campbell had lots of questions about Australian technological, personnel and financial capacity but the potential killer at this threshold meeting was Australian politics. “We asked lots of questions about politics,” said Campbell. “Would this be contentious? Would this hold?”
Bipartisan political commitment, Labor and Liberal, was a prerequisite, the Americans said. “This would be a military marriage. It would have to hold over decades.”
President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in April last year with (from left) his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Kurt Campbell, coordinator for the Indo-Pacific on the National Security Council. APnone
Shearer’s reply was that, though the government hadn’t had the conversation with Labor, “public debate about the threat had changed significantly and there was a pretty strong bipartisan agreement with the Left on the security environment in Australia”.
At the close of the meeting, Sullivan told Shearer that “this will be looked at very seriously over months, not years, and we’ll try to cut through the bureaucracy”.
Shearer didn’t trust even secure communications channels to tell Morrison about the meeting, only sending him an oblique message that “the proposition had been well-received”. But when Shearer returned to Canberra he made clear to Morrison and his other colleagues that the White House had set political bipartisanship as a non-negotiable condition. “If Albo says ‘no’, the deal will be dead,” as Australia’s ambassador to Washington, Arthur Sinodinos, put it to colleagues.
The White House trusted Morrison to bring Labor in on the secret and the US made no approaches, formal or otherwise, to test Labor’s reaction. Yet the prime minister decided not to brief Labor leader Anthony Albanese for five months. He briefed him on the day before the deal was to be announced in a three-way piece of theatre with Morrison, Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden. It was high stakes on a very tight deadline.
This is part one of a two-part series by Peter Hartcher examining the AUKUS deal. The series concludes on Sunday, May 15.
Peter Hartcher is political editor and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
New president Yoon Suk-yeol has pledged to ‘dramatically strengthen’ defences
May 9 2022
Ahead of his inauguration as South Korea’s president on Tuesday, Yoon Suk-yeol promised he would “dramatically strengthen” his nation’s defences against the rapidly developing nuclear forces of North Korea.
The conservative president’s campaign pledge highlighted an intensifying debate in the country whether to push for a return of US nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula — and even whether South Korea should seek to develop its own nuclear deterrent.
Yoon used his inauguration address to offer “an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy” if Pyongyang committed to denuclearisation. But experts believe it is highly unlikely that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will give up its arsenal.
“The big thing that has changed is what Russia has done in Ukraine,” said Karl Friedhoff, a Korea expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
“The Korean security establishment never quite took the possibility of North Korean nuclear coercion entirely seriously, but seeing how Russia has been able to threaten potential nuclear use from the very beginning of the war has opened people’s eyes,” Friedhoff said.
South Korea’s strategy for using its conventional military to deter Pyongyang relies on capabilities it calls the “Three Ks”. These are pre-emptive missile strikes, dubbed “Kill Chain”, to take out launch sites if a nuclear attack is judged imminent, with “Korea Air and Missile Defence” to destroy incoming projectiles and “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation” to hit back at Pyongyang.
Under outgoing president Moon Jae-in, Seoul invested heavily in fighter aircraft, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and military spy satellites. South Korea is also developing its own missile defence system modelled on Israel’s Iron Dome.
But analysts said South Korea’s ability to rely on its conventional military superiority to deter attacks was being eroded, increasing its reliance on the nuclear umbrella provided by the US, Seoul’s closest security ally.
“North Korea’s development of solid-fuel missiles that can be fired at a moment’s notice undermines the Kill Chain, its manoeuvrable missiles challenge South Korea’s missile defences, while the threat of potential early nuclear use poses a threat to the whole package,” said S Paul Choi, founder of Seoul-based political risk advisory StratWays Group.
“Korean security officials have long been uncomfortable about this, but the problem is getting more acute, leading more people to question our reliance on America’s extended deterrent,” Choi said.
The US removed all its nuclear warheads from South Korea in 1991, but Chun In-bum, a retired lieutenant general and former commander of the South Korean special forces, said US tactical nuclear weapons should be deployed to the peninsula in response to the threat posed by those of North Korea.
At a military parade last month, Kim signalled his willingness to engage in nuclear coercion in defence of his country’s “fundamental interests”, declaring that his nuclear arsenal had a “secondary mission” that went beyond that of preventing war.
Chun said tactical nuclear forces should be stationed in South Korea that could “deliver a response within 1-3 minutes, not 45 minutes or a couple of hours”.
“It is only when both sides place each other in such a dangerous situation that they will think about getting rid of such weapons,” he said. “It’s cold war logic, but that’s where we are right now. The North Koreans are just not taking us seriously.”
Jeongmin Kim, lead analyst at Seoul-based information service Korea Pro, said many members of the incoming Yoon administration shared Chun’s desire to see US nuclear weapons deployed on South Korean territory.
“The Korean conservatives have signalled not only that they want more nuclear assets made available to defend the Korean peninsula, but that they want greater assurances as to how the US might respond in an emergency situation,” said Kim. “They want to have more of a say, and they want to have greater understanding of US thinking on nuclear use.”
She added Yoon would be more willing to project strength than his progressive predecessor, whose hopes of securing his political legacy as a peacemaker were dashed by North Korean intransigence.
“The difference between the two administrations will be one of tone, rather than actual military readiness,” said Kim. “Whereas Moon Jae-in used to prioritise dialogue and tension management, Yoon will prioritise signalling to South Korean citizens that their deterrence is effective.”
Some analysts warned a more confrontational line could be counter-productive.
“Doubling down on deterrence, economic isolation and the threat of military force will only deepen instability on the peninsula at a time when North Korea is ratcheting up tension,” said Jessica Lee, a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington.
Recent polling by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs suggested continuing public support in South Korea for the country to acquire its own nuclear weapons, with 71 per cent of those surveyed in favour.
Christopher Green, senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, said that just as North Korea started developing nuclear weapons in the late 1970s in response to perceived military vulnerability, South Korea could be reaching the conclusion it needs its own nuclear forces.
“The US has an awful lot of leverage by which to restrain South Korean ambitions in that regard,” said Green. “Washington could theoretically acquiesce if it saw North Korea as otherwise undeterrable, but I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon.”
But Chun said Seoul should not assume it will be able to rely on the external guarantees of a distant US forever.
“Either American extended nuclear deterrence is formidable and credible, or South Korea acquires its own nuclear weapons,” Chun said. “I have never doubted an American soldier. But I would be foolish to place my nation’s security in the hands of an American politician.”
“If Finland wants to join this bloc, then our goal is absolutely legitimate – to question the existence of this state. This is logical,” Mr Zhuravlyov said in an interview with state TV Russia 1.
“If the United States threatens our state, it’s good: here is the Sarmat for you, and there will be nuclear ashes from you if you think that Russia should not exist. And Finland says that it is at one with the USA. Well, get in line.”
Asked if Russia would now rebase nuclear weapons onto its border with Finland, he said: “What for? We don’t need to.
“We can hit with a Sarmat from Siberia, and even reach the UK. And if we strike from Kaliningrad… the hypersonic’s reaching time is 200 seconds – so go ahead, guys.
“On the Finnish border we will have not strategic weapons, but Kinzhal-class, one that will reach Finland in 20 seconds, or even 10 seconds.”
Russia has voiced its discontent at Finland’s intention to join Nato and said it would take “retaliatory steps” both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security rising.
Mr Zhuravlyov claimed Finland is being provoked into joining Nato by the US and the UK. “The Finns have nothing to share with us. They receive more than 90 per cent gas, timber and much more from us.
“Who needs fighting first of all? The Finns? They are not afraid that Russia is attacking them. Of course, sooner or later the Americans will force them to do so.
“Just as they forced Ukraine to do it, they are trying to force Poland and Romania. And, as practice shows, they succeed.”
Deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow will take adequate precautionary measures if Nato deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border, according to the RIA news agency. He added that Moscow has no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden and does not see “real” reasons for those two countries to be joining Nato alliance.
Aleksey Zhuravlyov warned that Russia could strike the UK within minutes
In an interview with many colourful remarks such as labelling Baltic nations Lithuania and Estonia, stink bugs, Mr Zhuravlyov also claimed that St Petersburg – Putin’s birthplace – could be Nato’s first target in a war with Russia, adding that the US “will do everything possible to make World War Three happen”.
“They [the US] will be able to attribute all their problems to the war, as they already did in the First World War and the Second World War.
“They got out of their crisis only thanks to the war in Europe. But there is a big danger: who guarantees that nuclear missiles will not fly? I do not guarantee this.”
Russian energy supplier RAO Nordic says it will suspend deliveries of electricity to Finland from Saturday, citing problems with payments as tensions between the two nations rise. The Finnish grid operator said Russia provided only a small percentage of the country’s electricity and that it could be replaced from alternative sources.
Fingrid said it did not expect electricity shortages as a result of the shut off, as only around 10 per cent of Finland’s electricity is supplied from Russia.
National security is a big problem for any country. Every country wants to protect itself from others. To assure the5r defence, they get weapons, train soldiers, and make allies. Many countries have intelligence agencies to further ensure their defence. But who knew that having nuclear weapons would be required for survival as well.
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In the early 1990s, Ukraine had the third biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons after the collapse of the USSR, but in 1994, Ukraine was forced to give up its nuclear arsenal in an agreement called the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Ukraine was guaranteed that it would be protected so it handed over all its nuclear weapons to Russia in 1996 under the Budapest memorandum. Russia had promised that it would not attack Ukraine if it gave up its nuclear weapons. The USA and the European Union also guaranteed Ukraine that in case anything went wrong, they would come for its defence. And today, none of them kept their promise. Russia invaded Ukraine despite the agreement and other countries did nothing to defend Ukraine other than making official statements. So giving up nuclear weapons was a bad idea?
Before the advent of atomic weapons, it was all about resources. The more the money a country had, the more weapons and ammunition it had. Rich countries like the USA, UK, France, and the USSR were the most powerful in that regard because they had enormous budgets to buy these weapons. The rest of the world did not even bother to compete with these countries for power as they had no resources to outnumber the weapons and personnel these advanced countries had. In fact not only they had the most weapons, but they also were the manufacturers of these weapons themselves. Weak countries could only buy these weapons for their defence from each other.
Till the 1940s, the USA enjoyed the status of being the most powerful country that no one can dare to mess with. But the White House’s striving for more power continued. 1n 1945, the USA conducted nuclear tests in the New Mexican desert and became the first nuclear power of the world. It was the most powerful weapon of the world, but somehow, other rivals of the USA were not aware of the potential damage that this technology could cause. In order to show the impact of nuclear weapons to the Soviet authorities, the USA dropped two bombs on Japan within the same year that caused massive destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people.
Pakistan was under this pressure too but it did not give up. Today Pakistan is a nuclear power. It might be having severe issues but we have a guarantee that we are safe. Despite having a chaotic economy and being in political crisis, no country will dare to mess with it due to its nuclear status
The destruction was drastic and the USSR realized that this new technology can easily upset the balance regarding armaments management because no matter how many weapons a country had, it coud not beat a nuclear bomb. Till today there is no technology that can save a country from a nuclear attack. Thus the USSR In 1949, conducted nuclear tests and became the second nuclear power.
In the 20th century, having nuclear weapons became a status symbol. Every advanced country had to get nuclear weapons in order to be considered powerful. In 1952, the UK became a nuclear power while France did in 1960. China was the 5th country to test a nuclear weapon in 1964 while India joined the club in 1974. Since India was keeping a destructive technology, it was necessary for Pakistan to have nuclear weapons as well. Former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto opened the first nuclear plant near Karachi in his tenure, however, the first test was conducted in 1998 under the leadership of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif despite severe pressure from the USA. Of course Pakistan was urged to give up its nuclear defence programme and it was not the only country that faced this. Ukraine went through the same pressure.
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However, Ukraine was too optimistic. It hoped it would never need nuclear weapons so it destroyed them but two decades later, it is regretting it. If Ukraine had taken a stand for its national security, Russia would not dare to invade it. A country might not need nuclear weapons to use, but it does need the nukes to make sure that other countries think twice before invading it.
Pakistan was under this pressure too but it did not give up. Today Pakistan is a nuclear power. It might be having severe issues but we have a guarantee that we are safe. Despite having a chaotic economy and being in political crisis, no country will dare to mess with it due to its nuclear status. Like Ukraine, it has a much larger, nuclear-armed neighbour to its East.
Moscow will take adequate precautionary measures if NATO deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border, Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying on Saturday.
“It will be necessary to respond … by taking adequate precautionary measures that would ensure the viability of deterrence,” Interfax agency quoted Grushko as saying.
Moscow has no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden and does not see “real” reasons for those two countries to be joining the NATO alliance, Grushko added.
He also reiterated the Kremlin’s earlier statement that Moscow’s response to NATO’s possible expansion will depend on how close the alliance moves military assets towards Russia and what infrastructure it deploys.
Finland’s plan to apply for NATO membership, announced on Thursday, and the expectation that Sweden will follow, would bring about the expansion of the Western military alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed to prevent.