GAZA, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) — Thousands of Palestinians rallied Thursday here on the 35th anniversary of establishing the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement. It is the first rally since the last round of tensions the PIJ had with Israel in August.
Dozens of the group’s armed wing militants were deployed in the city’s main streets, carrying rifles and wearing masks and military uniforms. They also displayed homemade rocket launchers.
Ziad al-Nakhala, secretary-general of the group, who resides in Iran, told the rally in an online speech that the recent round of tensions was necessary to express their “non-submission to the enemy in carrying out its attacks whenever and however it wants.”
“The Islamic Jihad’s decision to constantly fight and preoccupy the enemy is a vision, a position, and a duty to drain its energy and impede its policies,” he said.
He also said that Jerusalem was and will remain the focus of the conflict, and they “will fight in defense of our land, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and churches.”
“Israel is trying to turn the Palestinian cause into a humanitarian issue that it addresses by opening the labor market and other economic temptations to extinguish the spirit of resistance and dismantle it later,” al-Nakhala said.
Leaders of Palestinian factions, including the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, attended the rally, where Palestinian flags, the black banners of the PIJ, and pictures of its leaders and other militants assassinated by Israel were raised.
About 50 Palestinians, including 17 children and four women, were killed, and more than 300 were injured in the latest wave of tensions between Israel and the PIJ in Gaza in August, which lasted for three days. Enditem
South Korea is facing growing calls to acquire nuclear weapons irrespective of ideological dogma. Such calls are being fueled by North Korea’s growing nuclear menace and misgivings about the U.S.’ extended deterrence if Pyongyang decides to attack its southern neighbor.
“There has been a nuclear taboo ― a normative inhibition against the first use of nuclear weapons ― but Russia is about to break it in its war against Ukraine, thereby stoking concerns among countries, (including South Korea) that do not have their own nuclear weapons,” said Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Go added that, despite Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the United States and NATO were poised to respond to it with conventional weapons, with many South Koreans fearful of Washington’s possible half-hearted response to North Korea’s potential nuclear attack against the South.
Cheong Seong-chang, the director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, also said that the growing interest in the development of a domestic nuclear weapons program comes as the U.S.’ steadfast nuclear retaliation, in the case of North Korea using nuclear weapons against South Korea, appears uncertain.
“Even though the allies held an Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) meeting in September, for the first time in nearly five years, they failed to reach an agreement on the U.S.’ immediate and automatic retaliation in response to a North Korean nuclear attack against the South,” Cheong said.
The EDSCG, a high-level consultative mechanism to achieve North Korean denuclearization through steadfast deterrence, was held in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 16, but its joint statement merely stipulated that North Korea would face an “overwhelming and decisive” response in the event of a nuclear attack.
“North Korea has made significant progress in the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, so it seems that our trust in the U.S. nuclear umbrella, aimed at ensuring deterrence against nuclear threats, has been eroded,” Cheong said.
According to a recent poll by the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, more than half of South Koreans, or 55.5 percent, supported the development of a domestic nuclear weapons program, with 92.5 percent of 1,200 respondents believing that North Korea will not abandon its nuclear program.
In that respect, calls for an independent nuclear arsenal have been reignited amid an accelerated buildup of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
“Ukraine was the world’s third-largest nuclear power, but it disarmed its nuclear weapons following security assurances from the U.S., Britain and Russia and as a result, Ukraine is now facing Russia’s nuclear attack,” Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo said on Facebook, Wednesday,
An Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missile is fired during a joint military drill between South Korea and the United States at an undisclosed location in South Korea, Wednesday. Courtesy of Joint Chiefs of Staff In 2017, Hong, who was the leader of the Liberty Korea Party, the predecessor of the current ruling People Power Party, claimed that South Korea should acquire nuclear weapons if it is to negotiate with North Korea on an equal footing.
“Amid the U.S. and British struggle to effectively deal with Russia’s nuclear aggression, if North Korea uses nuclear weapons against us, while declaring its attacks against the U.S. and Japan, could they retaliate against the North with nuclear arsenals?” Hong added.
He added, “It is time for a full review of our nuclear strategy against North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”
Former Korea Foundation President Lee Geun, a professor at Seoul National University’s Graduate School of International Studies, recently presented a similar view.
“Now, we need to acknowledge the irreversibility of North Korea’s nuclear weapons policy and think about our nuclear power strategy in preparation for this,” he said on Facebook.
Referring to President Yoon Suk-yeol’s remarks in his speech marking Armed Forces Day, Saturday, that North Korea’s nuclear weapons development defies the international nonproliferation treaty, Lee also said, “Such a political statement sounds unrealistic and is just empty rhetoric.”
Go said developing a South Korean nuclear weapons program would result in an “invisible” high opportunity cost beyond punitive measures meted out by the international community.
“Many believe that South Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could lead to the international community placing sanctions on the nation, but as we witnessed in India’s case, it would barely impose any punitive measures on us in consideration of the country’s role and status in the international community,” he said.
“Rather, the move would undermine South Korea’s alliance with the U.S., because the alliance is based on Washington’s provision of its nuclear umbrella in a way, but South Korea’s development of independent nuclear weapons could break up the alliance and that is why we have yet to be enthusiastic about acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Go added, “What would China prefer, between a nuclear-armed South Korea and a South Korea without its alliance with the U.S., given that Beijing is already surrounded by countries with nuclear weapons?”
“The return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons will ensure a stable South Korea-U.S. alliance, while strengthening their response to North Korea’s nuclear threats,” he said.
In a new development, South Korea and the U.S. fired four surface-to-surface missiles into the East Sea on Wednesday morning in response to North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) launch.
The two sides each launched two Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles, which precisely hit mock targets and demonstrated the allies’ deterrence capability, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
Meanwhile, the South Korean military fired one Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile, but it fell inside the base where it was launched after an abnormal flight.
As Biden explained, “We’ve got a guy” — Russian President Vladimir Putin — “I know fairly well. He’s not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons.” Putin said several times last month he would use “all weapon systems available” to Russia if its “territorial integrity” was violated, and he said he wasn’t bluffing.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned even before Russia’s invasion that the globe sits “at doom’s doorstep.” The setting of its Doomsday Clock sits at 100 seconds to midnight, the most ominous position of the dial since its creation in 1947.
The nuclear experts I spoke with agree that Biden’s comments were, without a doubt, attention-grabbing. There’s decidedly less consensus on whether they were helpful or alarmist.
“It’s sort of the crazy stuff we used to talk about during the 1970s and ’80s,” Hans Kristensen, a researcher with the Federation of American Scientists, told me. “It’s pretty insane that three decades after the end of the Cold War, we still have to entertain these kind of thoughts.”
While worries about nuclear war have been present since Moscow invaded Ukraine nearly eight months ago, what’s different now is just how tangible the threat is compared to any point since the end of the Cold War. Between Putin’s menacing comments, Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory even as Ukraine advances, and ever more US support for Ukraine, the danger is concrete enough that Biden is unnerved.
Nuclear experts agree that Biden’s statement was accurate, but there is not consensus as to whether Biden’s remarks were the right thing to have said aloud.
Biden was “deeply reassuring” by expressing the severity of what’s happening, says James Acton, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think this gives you an idea about where his mind is at. He literally is the president of a country with hundreds of millions of people living in it, during an actual honest-to-god nuclear crisis,” he said.
Nevertheless, Biden’s claims may play into Putin’s power. “Putin is looking at this and he’s saying, ‘Well, wow, the US president, he thinks I’m actually going to do this, that means I have a card to play,’” Kristensen told me.
He also emphasized that the Cuban missile crisis was a true hair-trigger scenario. Today US intelligence agencies report that, despite Putin’s rhetoric, it doesn’t appear that Russia has mobilized the parts of its nuclear arsenal that would be used for a smaller strike on the Ukrainian battlefield. So while it’s appropriate to highlight the ongoing danger, Kristensen said that we’re not yet in a direct Russian-US nuclear standoff. By comparing it to the emergency situation of the Cuban missile crisis, where both US and Soviet nuclear arms were loaded, Biden “has gone a bit over the top here.”
The small cabal of nuclear watchers has been warning of the growing nuclear peril even before the current Russia-Ukraine war, among them Lynn Rusten, who served as a senior arms control official in the State Department during the Obama administration and now works at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Rusten thinks that Biden’s warning was warranted. “The Biden administration has been extremely restrained and constrained in how it has handled Russia’s saber-rattling since the beginning of this crisis,” she told me. “He said what we know to be true. And it just makes it clear that it’s important for leaders to find a way out of this.”
The scene of the comments shouldn’t be lost on us. Biden was speaking at the home of James Murdoch, who in addition to being the son of media magnate and Republican booster Rupert is also a major investor in the influential military contractor Rebellion Defense. Murdoch the younger is also a former board member of the TV network Fox, where Tucker Carlson and others have urged appeasement with Russia and limiting US involvement in Ukraine.
Diplomacy is the only way out
Beyond the alarming assessment, Biden said something rather remarkable: He noted the urgency of seeing Russia’s war of aggression from Putin’s perspective.
“We are trying to figure out: What is Putin’s off-ramp? Where does he find a way out?” Biden said. “Where does he find himself where he does not only lose face but significant power?”
Inherent in Biden’s comment is that engaging with the Russian government is crucial to avoiding a worst-case scenario.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we’re starting to treat diplomacy like it’s a reward for good behavior, instead of a tool that you use with your adversaries and enemies,” Rusten told me. “That’s pretty risky. Because I think if you don’t have these channels of communication, I think it’s a lot easier to dehumanize” the adversary than to engage diplomatically with them.
Still, it’s worth noting that Russia is still some steps away from readying its unconventional arms.
The Kremlin keeps its weapons separately from the systems that would launch them into oblivion, according to Pavel Podvig, an independent researcher who studies Russian nuclear forces. Still, the risk is serious. To Podvig, what’s missing from the US conversation is restraint: too many instant-experts are saying that if Russia uses a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, the US needs to be tough by responding to Russia perhaps with a small nuclear weapon. “My take is that you just don’t go there, because that’s not worth it. There would have to be a response, of course, but it would have to be along the lines of the total isolation” of Russia.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said today, “We have not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture, nor do we have indications they are preparing to use them.” And the US has reportedly back-channeled to Russiaabout the hazardous weight of Putin’s threats. Dialogue like that is key.
As Rusten put it, “We may all have a lot of divergence, but arguably we still have a mutual interest in not blowing each other and the world up with nuclear weapons.”
North Korea’s recent flurry of missile testsdemonstrated its ability to carry out strikes with tactical nuclear weapons, its leader, Kim Jong-un, has said, adding that his forces were “completely ready to hit and destroy targets at any time from any location”.
In a report carried on Monday, the state news agency KCNA said that Kim had ordered the test launches in response to large-scale navy drills by South Korean and US forces.
Tokyo and Washington recently resumed the exercises, including the deployment of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan to waters off the east coast of South Korea – a move that infuriated Pyongyang, where the drills are seen as a rehearsal for an invasion.
In response, North Korea “decided to organise military drills under the simulation of an actual war,” KCNA reported.
Army units involved in “the operation of tactical nukes, staged military drills from 25 September to 9 October in order to check and assess the war deterrent and nuclear counterattack capability of the country,” the report said, confirming that Kim had personally directed the exercises.
Official photographs showed Kim at all of the missile launches and exercises, giving orders and posing with smiling soldiers.
“They’re pursuing a tactical nuclear weapon for sure,” said US-based security analyst Ankit Panda. “I suspect they’ll gradually nuclearise many of their new short-range missiles, including the manoeuvring missiles.”
The fact that North Korea has described all seven of its recent missile launches as being linked to “tactical nuclear operations units” is significant, he added, since the inventory includes everything from short-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, to a new short-range missile designed to be launched from a submarine.Kim Jong-un oversees a military drill in an image provided by North Korean media. Photograph: KCNA/EPA
Kim, who has presided over dramatic improvements in missile and nuclear development despite years of UN sanctions, has long wanted to acquire tactical nuclear weapons – smaller, lighter weapons designed for battlefield use – and made it a top priority at a key party congress in January 2021.
Kim guided exercises by the country’s nuclear tactical operation units over the past two weeks, involving ballistic missiles with mock nuclear warheads, KCNA said, adding that they were meant to deliver a strong deterrent message.
“The effectiveness and practical combat capability of our nuclear combat force were fully demonstrated as it stands completely ready to hit and destroy targets at any time from any location,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying. “Even though the enemy continues to talk about dialogue and negotiations, we do not have anything to talk about nor do we feel the need to do so.”
The various tests simulated targeting military command facilities, striking main ports, and neutralising airports in the South.
Tactical nuclear weapons
South Korean and US officials say there are signs North Korea could soon detonate a new nuclear device in underground tunnels at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which was officially closed in 2018.
Analysts say putting small warheads on short-range missiles could represent a dangerous change in the way North Korea deploys and plans to use nuclear weapons.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said North Korea had “multiple motivations” for publicising the launches.
“Kim Jong-un’s public appearance after a month-long absence provides a patriotic headline to mark (Monday’s) founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ party,” Easley said.
“Pyongyang has been concerned about military exercises by the US, South Korea and Japan, so to strengthen its self-proclaimed deterrent, it is making explicit the nuclear threat behind its recent missile launches,” he added.
The clampdown has further complicated the vexed talks between Iran and the great powers – the US (informally), France, the UK, Germany, Russia and China – over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Negotiations had already stalled after a year and a half of diplomacy.
Many Western countries have urged Tehran to respect human rights amid the protests following Amini’s death. France, for example, called for EU-wide sanctions against those responsible for the repression that has killed more than 100 people according to Norway-based NGO Iran Human Rights.
France’s ‘prudent’ style
“In light of what’s been going on in Iran, the parties engaged in the nuclear talks are less keen to pursue a renewed deal at all costs,” said David Rigoulet-Roze, a Middle East specialist at the IRIS think-tank in Paris. “And for its part, the regime is hardening its stance in response to the protests and is now even less inclined to make any compromise with international powers that might suggest weakness. So it seems unlikely that Iran will change its stance towards the West in the nuclear talks.
“Western powers involved in the talks can bring up human rights – and we’ve seen that with the sanctions the Europeans and the US have announced,” Rigoulet-Roze went on. “But human rights are not one of the issues at stake in the agreement itself.”
“Human rights are extremely important, but if the negotiators bring it into the mix, they’re just not going to get an agreement,” said Thierry Coville, an Iran analyst also at IRIS. “What’s more, the Islamic Republic will class it as interference and say it’s evidence that the protests are part of a foreign plot.”
Tehran is already trying to frame the unrest in these terms – with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claiming on Monday that the “riots” were fomented by the US and Israel, and not organised by “ordinary Iranians”.
After the French foreign ministry condemned the “brutal repression” of Iranian protesters, Paris had its chargé d’affaires summoned for a dressing down in Tehran last week. While announcing this, Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on Tuesday that “Iran regarded a reminder of the fundamental principles of human rights as a form of interference and decided to say so to our embassy there”.
“France doesn’t want to make an already tragic situation even worse,” Rigoulet-Roze said. “It doesn’t want to give Tehran a pretext to justify conspiratorial allegations about supposed international interference.”
It’s not just the French government in a difficult position. With the US midterms coming up on November 8, it is “difficult” for President Joe Biden to “commit to a nuclear agreement with a country that does not respect human rights”, Coville said.
“Even at the height of the Cold War, as President Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,’ he was also engaged in arms control talks because he knew that on the one hand, we had to push back vigorously against the repression of the Soviet Union,” Jean-Pierre said. “And at the same time, we had to protect and defend the security of ourselves, our allies, and our partners.”
Iran agreed in August to drop its demand that the US remove the Revolutionary Guard Corps from its blacklist of terrorist organisations – demonstrating that Tehran is flexible at least up to a point.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani suggested on Monday a softening of Tehran’s stance – announcing that Iran and the US exchanged messages on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in mid-September, using the EU’s diplomatic coordinator for Iran Enrique Mora and other senior officials as intermediaries.
“There is still a possibility and a chance to resume the implementation of the nuclear deal,” Mora said. “Efforts are under way with the European coordinator and other mediators, including the foreign ministries of neighbouring countries, to exchange messages to reach an agreement.”
Tehran released on October 1 Iranian-American dual citizen Baquer Namazi, a former provincial governor under the Shah, and his son Siamak, both of whom were arrested in 2015. A “medical requirement” motivated the decision, according to the US State Department – while the Islamic Republic News Agency said it was linked to the release of about $7 billion of Iranian funds blocked abroad.
Iran was taking a “prudent step backwards” in releasing those two detainees, Coville said. “Current events are pushing Tehran to be flexible on the diplomatic front to try and get an agreement.”
Even before the protests over Mahsa Amini’s death, Iran was taking an “obstructionist” approach overall, he added.
At the same time, France, the UK and Germany have lost patience with Iran over its accelerating nuclear programme – even if the three European powers were still keen to secure a deal until recently.
Indeed, the Islamic Republic has further increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to 60 percent, close to weapons grade, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s latest report. Just a bit more enrichment would give Iran enough to make an atomic bomb.
This is a concern, seeing as “Iran doesn’t want to give the IAEA an answer about the presence of anthropogenic uranium found at three undeclared sensitive sites: Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad,” Rigoulet-Roze said, arguing that an agreement is impossible as things stand. The UN nuclear watchdog said in May that Iran has not given “satisfactory answers” about those three sites.
And US politics present an obstacle to an agreement. Iranian negotiators are demanding that Biden agree that any new deal be respected into the future, even if he loses the 2024 presidential election. But it is simply impossible for a US president to sign off on that, “because the nature of US institutions does not allow it”, as Rigoulet-Roze put it.
“Biden can’t commit himself legally to that for one reason: The Iran deal is an agreement rather than a treaty,” he continued. “The US Congress must give the green light to any international treaties Washington signs. But there’s never going to be a sufficient majority for this to happen.”
Instead of thinking about resurrecting the 2015 deal, Rigoulet-Roze concluded, Western powers should focus on “managing” the fallout from the end of the agreement, as the accord has been seen as “hollow” since ex-US president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
“Iran is now a country on the nuclear threshold: They are well aware that if they want to make a nuclear bomb they’ve got enough uranium enriched to a high level and have the kind of know-how you can’t really get rid of – even if it doesn’t seem to be the case that they’ve made the political decision to build one for now.”
It is hard these days to decide which threat deserves our greatest attention: election deniers being put in charge of future U.S. elections and other threats to democracy; the radical right wing Supreme Court majority; inflation and recession; hurricanes fueled by the climate crisis; famine in Africa and the Middle East; the global growth of neo-fascist movements; or Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in his desperate and failing attempt to subdue Ukraine.
Here, I want to focus on the latter, because the threat is growing, and it has catastrophic implications.
When I studied national security years ago at Harvard Kennedy School, I learned how the Pentagon’s war planners and Russia’s counterparts think about the use of nuclear weapons. This was in the 1980s when Reagan and Gorbachev had agreed to reduce the strategic nuclear stockpiles on both sides of the Cold War divide. Both sides recognized that a full exchange of nuclear missiles and bombs would end life as we know it on the planet, thus rendering an all-out nuclear war one that, in Reagan’s words, “… can never be won and should never be fought.” This stand-off reality was dubbed Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
It was under the umbrella of MAD that deadly non-nuclear conflicts such as the U.S.-Vietnam War or the Soviet-Afghan war and many other smaller wars could go on at horrific human costs without either side introducing nuclear weapons. MAD did not mean peace.
But war planners were not sitting back in their recliners, self-assured in the notion that just having a nuclear arsenal would guarantee they would never be used. Even in the strategic arms control atmosphere of the 1980s, there was a growing interest in the Pentagon in the possibility of using lower-yield, “tactical nukes” in the battlefield. War scenarios were gamed out to explore situations where such weapons might be used, especially in Europe.
One of the most likely scenarios was one where a country with nuclear weapons was losing a conventional war with an enemy that did not possess such weapons. An autocratic leader with no checks on their power, even possibly surrounded by advisors who urged the use of tactical nukes, losing battles and soldiers, doubtful of his ability to marshal enough troops to win the conflict — this is the scenario that many war gamers consider the most likely to lead to the use of battlefield nuclear weapons.
This seems increasingly to be the situation Putin finds himself in, and it is the reason why we should take seriously his rattling of the nuclear saber. Russia’s stated policy on first-use of nuclear weapons includes the right to defend Russian territory. That is why the recent annexation of still-contested parts of Ukraine could be a dangerous prelude to using nuclear weapons to defend what he has now declared to be part of Russia.
So, what are tactical or “low-yield” nuclear weapons? And how could the U.S. and its allies respond if Putin used them in Ukraine?
Many of these weapons have about a third or less of the destructive power of the 15-kiloton Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs that, combined, killed between 130,000 and 200,000 people, but their lower yield could make them more tempting to use if conventional forces are failing on the field. “Lower yield” as a military term of art tends to minimize or normalize the notion of incinerating “only” 10,000 people, instead of 100,000, with one weapon.
These weapons should not be confused with intermediate-range (500km and more) nuclear weapons, which were once banned under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev. That treaty was ended by the Trump administration on Aug. 2, 2019, with the Russians quickly following suit. The lower-yield, battlefield nukes, some of which can be fired from the back of a jeep, were never subjected to a treaty limiting their manufacture or deployment. Russia has about 1,900 tactical nuclear weapons, which they could use against Ukraine if, for instance, a Russian assault across the muddy fields of the Donbas region is repelled by Ukraine’s resistance. NATO countries have intermediate-range nukes at bases in Europe and on submarines. The U.S. also has about 100 low-yield tactical nukes stationed in five European countries.
The Biden administration has responded to Putin’s threats by promising “very serious consequences.” We don’t know what that means, and that ambiguity is part of the stare-down game. Will the U.S. respond with nuclear weapons, conventional weapons, or by other means? The U.S. and NATO need Putin to ponder the uncertainty of a U.S. response in his calculations. But there is danger in this uncertainty. A single battlefield commander, or a desperate, cornered despot, could set off a chain reaction that could lead to global disaster. One war-gaming exercise at Princeton University concluded a tactical nuclear weapon exchange could quickly escalate to a strategic nuclear exchange, killing 90 million people or more and leaving large portions of the planet uninhabitable.
It is way past time that the INF treaty be renewed and that world leaders take bold steps toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons, including the tactical weapons that are more likely to be used. Failing to do so is, well, MAD. A nuclear ban treaty has been signed by 66 nations. This Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would eliminate the nuclear weapon threat to our own existence and allow us to begin the process of coming together as a global community to end war and join in addressing the other existential threats we face, such as the worsening climate catastrophe. More information and an activist tool kit is available at the Union of Concerned Scientists website www.ucsusa.org.
Tom Gardner, MPA, PhD, is chair of the Communication Department at Westfield State University. He served in the 1980s as director of communications and public education for the Union of Concerned Scientists. He lives in Amherst.
On Tuesday, the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, agreed “to dialogue, if it is public, and in order to exclude all participants in the previous political and electoral processes.”
Commenting on the briefing given by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Plasschaert, he said in a tweet, “With regard to the briefing by the UN representative, what she said caught my attention as she said the main reason for what is happening in Iraq is the corruption that everyone agrees exists.”
“Indeed, this is very true and accurate, and the first step for gradual reform is the exclusion of the old faces, their parties and people from the next government in accordance with the aspirations of the rebellious people,” noted Al-Sadr.
He added, “We agree to dialogue if it is public, in order to exclude all participants in the previous political and electoral processes and to hold the corrupt accountable under the cover of an impartial judiciary.”
“I also support the need for restraint, as stated in the speeches of those participating in the UN Security Council session, so I call for restraint and not to resort to violence and weapons from all parties. I also call for immediately punishing perpetrators without regard to their affiliations, in addition to what was raised about the problem of uncontrolled weapons outside the framework of the State,” he said.
But, most importantly, according to Al-Sadr, “the uncontrolled weapons should not be within the framework of the State and should not be used against opponents and revolutionaries, or for the sake of establishing the rule and influence of the deep State, especially since the current Prime Minister is subjected to enormous pressures in this regard. Although he is the Commander of the Armed Forces, some militants do not respond to him, even if they are within the scope of the State.”
He called on the dear neighbouring countries “to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and maintain its security and stability through diplomatic means or through dialogue.”
He continued, “I stand against the insistence of some members of the Security Council to form a government in Iraq. Many governments have been formed, but they have harmed the country and the people. The people’s aspirations are to form a government that is far from corruption, dependency, militias and foreign interference in order to be an independent and stable government that serves its people, not the interests of its parties and sects.”
On the security front, in the early hours of yesterday morning, southern Iraq witnessed an escalation in the form of an armed attack on the government complex Al-Qusour in Basra, which includes the headquarters of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, while the protesters burned parts of the Dhi Qar Provincial Council building.
At least three Navy attack submarines are operating in the Atlantic Ocean area, their primary mission being to track and sink Russian ballistic missile submarines. Another U.S. attack submarine is berthed at a British naval base in Scotland. U.S. and British signal intelligence aircraft are expanding their Ukraine collection efforts to include Belarus and Kaliningrad. Other more boutique U.S. military capabilities are monitoring Kaliningrad for the same reason. U.S. satellites are almost certainly expanding their monitoring of Russian nuclear forces and storage sites. But partly due to the ground intelligence efforts of NATO allies in Eastern Europe, the U.S. has good visibility into Russia’s nuclear weapons posture. Britain’s GCHQ signal intelligence service also has exceptional insight into the Russian military command.
Nevertheless, concern in the Pentagon and intelligence community is greater than commonly understood. On Thursday, albeit in the odd setting of a Democratic Party fundraiser, President Joe Biden warned that “we have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. … [Putin] is not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming.”
Considering, however, that most nuclear weapons-related intelligence is highly classified, what signals might we see if the U.S. government believes a Russian nuclear strike appears imminent?
First off, watch the political space. Putin would want to leverage the threat of any nuclear strike to the maximum before actually using a nuclear weapon. Paying close attention to his increasingly hostile rhetoric would thus be important. But we would also see urgent statements from Biden and other world leaders warning of the grave consequences Russia would face if it used nuclear weapons. They would warn Russian commanders and nuclear forces personnel that following any such orders would mean their own personal liability. This narrative effort would seek to increase Putin’s fear that an order to use nuclear weapons might instead result in a palace coup by his own military.
Talking of imminence, if the U.S. believed that a Russian nuclear strike was impending, continuity of government plans would take effect. Put simply, it would not be a good sign if Vice President Kamala Harris and senior congressional leaders canceled their public schedules and moved off to a bunker. Biden would likely remain at the White House in order to project calm.