The Beltway military punditry floats one of its most inflammatory ideas yet, in calls for a preemptive strike against Moscow along with calls to bolster America’s missile defense system.
On Friday, a DC-based think tank issued a report calling for additional funding to advance US missile defense technology to combat what they view as a rising nuclear missile threat from Russia.
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin scoffed at Western assertions that Russia poses the preeminent threat to the US and NATO, labeling the idea of an attack against the military alliance “the type of thing that only crazy people think, and only when they are dreaming.”
Faced with the need to keep the budget spigot open, a Cold War-inspired Beltway commentariat continues to ratchet up “protective measures” against Moscow’s “aggression,” by installing a missile defense system in Romania and constructing another similar missile defense system in Poland. NATO is now considering deploying permanent troops on the border between Poland and Russia, while undertaking a series of costly and polluting military exercises, steps from Russian lands.
The latest war-drum-beating report is provided by the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments, whose scholars Bryan Clark and Mark Gunzinger not only call for spending more money on lasers, railguns, and hypervelocity projectiles, but also posit fail-safe artificial intelligence systems capable of shooting down incoming missiles, again from Russia.
The two note that while existing missile defense systems like the Navy’s Aegis have an automatic mode, the system lacks the kind of sophistication required to counter large incoming salvos. The paper proposed a plan modeled after a pet project of deputy Defense secretary and, coincidentally, a former vice-president of the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments, Bob Work, who has led efforts to combine artificial intelligence with unmanned missile defense.
In addition to calling for widely expanding appropriations to upgrade the US missile defense system against a hypothetical Russian attack threat, the think tank analysts suggest preemptive strikes against Russia, China, or any other nation, in the event diplomatic relations deteriorate.
The two spell out their enhanced rules of engagement in text that clearly violates international law, detailing a “blinding campaign” of coordinated strikes against hostile headquarters, satellites and radar, using cyberattacks, jamming, and long-range bombing, in anticipation of an attack.
Israeli police brutally beat up an Arab supermarket worker in Central Tel Aviv after he refused to identify himself because he didn’t know who they were, according to eyewitnesses.
The border police officers were off-duty in civilian clothes when they attacked the worker, an Israeli Arab, on Sunday afternoon at the Super Yuda supermarket on Ibn Gairol Street, opposite the Tel Aviv municipality.
The worker went to dispose of garbage when one of the policemen, dressed in shorts, demanded he identified himself. When the worker asked by what authority he was being asked to identify himself, the policeman began hitting him, witnesses said, according to the newspaper Haaretz.
“The blows were murderous, from the guy and from one of his friends. I’ve never seen anything like it. Teeth were flying through the air. The Arab was torn apart,” Erez Krispin, an eyewitness, wrote in a Facebook post that has since gone viral.
An old woman tried to interfere asking why they were beating him but the attackers screamed at her telling her to leave.
“Then police arrived and joined the two hooligans in beating him… I really don’t know if the Arab is still alive. They pushed him into a police van, not an ambulance, and disappeared. It later turned out that the two were Border Policemen (who didn’t identify themselves)” the witness said.
Another witness said, “He was beaten only because he’s Muslim,” Super Yuda owner Kobi Cohen told Walla News. “His only crime was that he’s not Jewish.”
Cohen further said that the original attackers were joined by plainclothes policemen and that there were as many as 10 people beating the worker.
“All the neighborhood knows him and knows that he’s a good guy who isn’t looking for trouble,” the victim’s father told Haaretz.
The father of the assaulted youth further said that this attack demonstrates the situation in Israel at the moment and he holds the prime minister and the public security minister responsible for such horrible incidents.
He added that the entire nation has seen the video and the police shouldn’t wait for his complaint but should check this on their own and make those cops and thugs pay.
The Israeli Police on the other hand made a statement saying that according to an initial investigation the Border Police officers identified a young man who they thought looked suspicious and asked him to identify himself. The suspect refused to identify himself and attacked the policemen, one of whom was bitten.
MK Dov Henin (Joint Arab List) filed an urgent appeal with the public security minister, asking for answers “about what appears to be, on the face of it, a lynching in broad daylight, an attack of an innocent civilian by police, only because he’s Arab.”
“The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used — accidentally or by decision — defies credibility”
This unanimous statement was published by the Canberra Commission in 1996. Among the commission members were internationally known former ministers of defense and of foreign affairs and generals.
The nuclear-weapon states do not intend to abolish their nuclear weapons. They promised to do so when they signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970. Furthermore, the International Court in The Hague concluded in its advisory opinion more than 20 years ago that these states were obliged to negotiate and bring to a conclusion such negotiations on complete nuclear disarmament. The nuclear-weapon states disregard this obligation. On the contrary, they invest enormous sums in the modernization of these weapons of global destruction.
It is difficult today to raise a strong opinion in the nuclear-weapon states for nuclear disarmament. One reason is that the public sees the risk of a nuclear war between these states as so unlikely that it can be disregarded.
It is then important to remind ourselves that we were for decades, during the Cold War, threatened by extinction by nuclear war. We were not aware at that time how close we were. In this article I will summarize some of the best-known critical situations. Recently published evidence shows that the danger was considerably greater than we knew at the time.
The risk today of a nuclear omnicide—killing all or almost all humans—is probably smaller than during the Cold War, but the risk is even today real and it may be rising. That is the reason I wish us to remind ourselves again: as long as nuclear weapons exist we are in danger of extermination. Nuclear weapons must be abolished before they abolish us.
Stanislav Petrov: The man who saved the world
1983 was probably the most dangerous year for mankind ever in history. We were twice close to a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the USA. But we did not know that.
The situation between the USA and the Soviet Union was very dangerous. In his notorious speech in March 1983, President Reagan spoke of the “Axis of Evil” states in a way that seriously upset the Soviet leaders. The speech ended the period of mutual cooperation, which had prevailed since the Cuba crisis.
In the Soviet Union many political and military leaders were convinced that the USA would launch a nuclear attack. Peter Handberg, a Swedish journalist, has reported of meetings with men who at that time watched over sites where the intercontinental missiles were stored. These men strongly believed that an American attack was imminent and they expected a launch order.
In Moscow, the leaders of the Communist party prepared for a counter attack. The head of the KGB, the foreign intelligence agency, General Ileg Kalunin, had ordered his agents in the world to watch for any sign of a large attack on the Mother Country.
A previous head of the KGB, Jurij Andropov, was now leader of the country. He was severely ill and was treated with chronic dialysis. He was the man ultimately responsible for giving the order to fire the nuclear missiles.
The nuclear arms race was intense. The USA and the Soviet Union were both arming the “European Theater” with medium-distance nuclear missiles. President Reagan’s “Star Wars” program was a source of much anxiety on the Russian side. The belief was that the USA was trying to obtain a first strike capacity. In Russia, a Doomsday machine was planned—a system that would automatically launch all strategic nuclear weapons if contact with the military and political leaders of the country was completely disabled.
The increased risk of war was felt particularly strongly by those in Russia who were ordered to prepare for an immediate response in case of a nuclear attack. The command centre situated in the military city Serpukov-15 was the hub for the vigilance, evaluating reports from satellites in space and radar stations at the borders. Colonel Stanislav Petrov was ordered to take the watch on the evening of September 25, instead of a colleague who had called in sick.
Late in the evening, the alarm sounded. A missile had apparently been fired from the American west coast. Soon two were detected; finally four. The computer warned that the probability of an attack was at the highest level.
Petrov should now, according to the instructions, immediately report that an American attack had been discovered. Against orders, he decided to wait. He knew that if he reported a nuclear attack a global war would be likely. The USA, the Soviet Union, and most of mankind would be exterminated. Petrov waited for more information.
He found it very unlikely that the USA had launched only a few missiles. Petrov was well informed about the computer system and he knew that it was not perfect.
After a long wait the “missiles” disappeared from the screens. The explanation came at last: There was a glitch in the computer system.
Petrov had himself been involved in developing the system. Maybe this special knowledge saved us? Or unusual self-confidence and courage in an unusual individual?
This fateful event became known when a superior officer, who had criticized omissions in Petrov’s records of the evening, told the story on his deathbed. Petrov has received rather little recognition in Russia.
What happened that critical night—and Petrov’s part in the story—is played out in a recent movie by the Danish producer Peter Anthony: “The man who saved the world.”
“Able Archer”: A NATO exercise which could have become the last
Just like the “Petrov incident,” the “Able Archer” crisis was known only to a few military and political leaders in Russia and the USA until decades later. Only in 2013 could the Nuclear Information Service get access to the classified US file. Important documents from Russia and Great Britain are still not available. Why do our leaders feel they need to “protect” us against the truth of the greatest dangers mankind has faced?
“Able Archer” was a NATO exercise carried out in the beginning of November 1983. The purpose was so simulate a Soviet invasion stopped by a nuclear attack. About 40,000 soldiers participated and large troop movements took place.
Similar exercises had been carried out in previous years. The development could be monitored by Soviet intelligence through radio eavesdropping. What was new was that the tension between Soviet and the USA was stronger than before. In the background was the Soviet operation RYAN, an acronym for an attack with nuclear missiles. RYAN had become the strategic plan of the Soviet KGB two years earlier, on how to respond to an expected American nuclear attack. The combination of Soviet paranoia and the rhetoric of President Ronald Reagan did place the world in great danger.
Soviet leaders thought that this exercise could be a parallel to Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, the military maneuver that suddenly was turned into a full-scale attack on the Soviet Union.
The Soviet leaders placed bomb planes on highest alert, with pilots in place in the cockpits. Submarines carrying nuclear missiles were placed in protected positions under the Arctic ice. Missiles of the SS-20 type were readied.
NATO concluded the exercises after a few days, with an order to launch nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. No missiles were fired, however, and the participants went back home.
After the exercise the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher learnt from the intelligence service how the NATO command had been ignorant of the serious misunderstanding in Russia of the intention of this exercise. She conferred with President Ronald Reagan. It is likely that this information, together with his viewing of the film “The Day After,” caused the conversion of the President which was expressed in his State of the Union message in 1984: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Reagan continued this process up to the famous meeting in Reykjavik in 1986, when he and President Gorbachev for a brief moment agreed to abolish all nuclear weapons before the end of the century.
An interesting and most worrying rendition of how the exercises were perceived in Russia is given in the documentary movie “1983: Brink of the Apocalypse.” The story is based on documents that became available in 2013 and on interviews with some of those who were active on both sides in the situation. Two spies were important in convincing the leaders of KGB that no attack was underway. One was a Russian spy in NATO headquarters who insisted to the KGB that this was an exercise and not a preparation for an attack. The other, a Russian spy in London, gave the same picture.
We can conclude that a lack of insight in the USA and in NATO into the perceptions in the Soviet Union put the world in mortal danger. Did two spies save the world?
A reflection of the danger associated with this NATO exercise plays out in the recent German TV production “Deutschland.”
The Cuba crisis: More dangerous than we knew
Soviet nuclear weapons were placed in Cuba. Fidel Castro and Russia’s generals intended to use them if the USA attacked. A Russian submarine that came under attack carried a nuclear weapon. A nuclear attack on the US was closer than we knew.
The development of this crisis has been described in several American books. “Thirteen Days” by Robert Kennedy is the best known and has also been made into a movie. As the story is so well known I will not repeat it here.
In the reports, we can experience how badly prepared the political and military leadership were for such a situation, and how little these two groups understood each other. The generals saw no alternatives other than doing nothing or destroying Cuba with a full-scale nuclear attack. Robert Kennedy wrote that he even feared a military coup!
The US side had little information about plans and evaluations in Moscow. There was no direct communication between Kennedy and Khrushchev. The final Russian answer to President Kennedy’s proposal was sent from the Russian Embassy to Kennedy by a bicycle messenger! (The “Hot line” was installed after—and because of—the Cuban Missile Crisis).
We know less about what went on in Moscow, but Khrushchev’s memoirs give some information. It seems that the Russian generals were greatly worried about the image and prestige of Russia. “If we give in to the US in this situation how could our allies trust us in the future. How could the Chinese have any respect for us?”
The world knew at the time that the crisis was very dangerous and that a nuclear war was a real possibility. Decades later we know more. Thus, Cuban President Fidel Castro, at a meeting many years later with US Secretary of Defense McNamara, said that if the USA had attacked Cuba, Castro would have demanded that Russian nuclear missiles be launched against the USA.
An American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba during the crisis. Only much later were we informed that another U-2 plane in the Arctic had entered over Soviet territory, misled by the influence of the Northern Light! US fighter planes were sent to protect the U-2 plane. These planes were equipped with nuclear weapons for this mission. Why? Was it possible for the lone pilot to launch these weapons?
We have also belatedly learned that four Russian submarines carrying nuclear torpedoes were navigating close to Cuba. The commanders were instructed to use their nuclear weapons if bombs seriously damaged their vessel. At least one of the submarines was hit by charges that were intended as warnings, but the commander did not know this. The captain believed his submarine was damaged and he wanted to launch his nuclear torpedo. His deputy, Captain Vasilij Alexandrovich Arkhipov, persuaded him to wait for an order from Moscow. No connection was established but the submarine escaped. Arkhipov’s role has been highlighted in a movie which, like the film about Petrov, is called “The man who saved the world.”
What would have been the consequence had the nuclear torpedo hit the US aircraft carrier that led the US operation?
Quite recently, reports have surfaced from the US base on Okinawa, Japan. During the Cuba crisis the order came to prepare for a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union. There was considerable confusion at the nuclear command at the base. An increase in the alarm level from DefCon-2 to DefCon-1 was expected but never came.
A bizarre event, which could have been come from a novel by John le Carré, was called “Penkovsky’s sighs.” Oleg Penkovsky was a double agent who had given important information to the CIA—the US Central Intelligence Agency—about the Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. He had been instructed to send a coded message—three deep exhalations repeated twice—to his contact were he informed that the Soviets intended to attack. This sighing message was sent during the Cuba crisis to the CIA. The CIA contact, however, realized that Penkovsky had been captured and tortured and the code had been extricated.
Other serious close calls
In November 1979, a recorded scenario describing a Russian nuclear attack had been entered into the US warning system NORAD. The scenario was perceived as a real full-scale Soviet attack. Nuclear missiles and bombers were readied. After six minutes the mistake became obvious. After this incident new security routines were introduced.
Despite these changed routines, less that one year later the mistake was repeated—this time more persistent and dangerous. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US national security adviser, was called at three o´clock in the morning by a general on duty. He was informed that 220 Soviet missiles were on their way towards the USA. A moment later a new call came, saying that 2,200 missiles had been launched. Brzezinski was about to call President Jimmy Carter when the general called for a third time reporting that the alarm had been cancelled.
The mistake was caused by a malfunctioning computer chip. Several similar false alarms have been reported, although they did not reach the national command.
We have no reports from the Soviet Union similar to these computer malfunctions. Maybe the Russians have less trust in their computers, just as Colonel Petrov showed? However, there are many reports on serious accidents in the manufacture and handling of nuclear weapons. I have received reliable information from senior military officers in the Soviet Union regarding heavy use of alcohol and drugs among the personnel that monitor the warning and control systems, just as in the USA.
The story of the “Norwegian weather rocket” in 1995 is often presented as a particularly dangerous incident. Russians satellites warned of a missile on its way from Norway towards Russia. President Yeltsin was called in the middle of the night; the “nuclear war laptop” was opened; and the president discussed the situation with his staff. The “missile” turned out not to be directed towards Russia.
I see this incident as an indication that when the relations between the nuclear powers are good, then the risk of a misunderstanding is very small. The Russians were not likely to expect an attack at that time.
Close calls have occurred not only between the two superpowers. India and Pakistan are in a chronic but active conflict regarding Kashmir. At least twice this engagement has threatened to expand into a nuclear war, namely at the Kargil conflict in 1999 and after an attack on the Indian Parliament by Pakistani terrorists in 2001. Both times, Pakistan readied nuclear weapons for delivery. Pakistan has a doctrine of first use: If Indian military forces transgress over the border to Pakistan, that country intends to use nuclear weapons. Pakistan does not have a system with a “permissive link”, where a code must be transmitted from the highest authority in order to make a launch of nuclear weapons possible. Military commanders in Pakistan have the technical ability to use nuclear weapons without the approval of the political leaders in the country. India, with much stronger conventional forces, uses the permissive link and has declared a “no first use” principle.
The available extensive reports from both these incidents show that the communication between the political and the military leaders was highly inadequate. Misunderstandings on very important matters occurred to an alarming degree. During both conflicts between India and Pakistan, intervention by US leaders was important in preventing escalation and a nuclear war.
We know little about close calls in the other nuclear-weapon states. The UK prepared its nuclear weapons for use during the Cuba conflict. There were important misunderstandings between military and political leaders during that incident. Today all British nuclear weapons are based on submarines. The missiles can, as a rule, be launched only after a delay of many hours. Mistakes will thus be much less likely.
France, on the contrary, claims that it has parts of its nuclear arsenal ready for immediate action, on order from the President. There are no reports of close calls. There is no reason to label the collision between a British and French nuclear-armed submarine in 2009 as a close call.
China has a “no first use” doctrine and probably does not have weapons on hair-trigger alert, which decreases the risk of dangerous mistakes.
Why was there no nuclear war?
Eric Schlosser, author of the book “Command and Control,” told this story: “An elderly physicist, who had taken part in the development of the nuclear weapons, told me: ‘If anyone had said in 1945, after the bombing of Nagasaki, that no other city in the world would be attacked with atomic weapons, no one would have believed him. We expected more nuclear wars.’”
Yes, how come there was no more nuclear war?
In the nuclear-weapon states they say that deterrence was the reason. MAD—“Mutual Assured Destruction”—saved us. Even if I attack first, the other side will have sufficient weapons left to cause “unacceptable” damage to my country. So I won’t do it.
Deterrence was important. In addition, the “nuclear winter” concept was documented in the mid-1980s. The global climate consequences of a major nuclear war would be so severe that the “winner” would starve to death. An attack would be suicidal. Maybe this insight contributed to the decrease in nuclear arsenals that started after 1985?
MAD cannot explain why nuclear weapons were not used in wars against countries that did not have them. In the Korean war, General MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese forces that came in on the North Korean side but he was stopped by President Truman. During the Vietnam war many voices in the USA demanded that nukes should be used. In the two wars against Iraq the US administration threatened to use nuclear weapons if Iraq used chemical weapons. Many Soviet military leaders wanted to use atomic bombs in Afghanistan.
What held them back? Most important were moral and humanitarian reasons. This was called the “Nuclear Threshold.” If the USA had used nuclear weapons against North Vietnam the results would have been so terrible that the US would have been a pariah country for decades. The domestic opinion in the US would not have accepted the bombing. Furthermore, the radioactive fallout in neighbouring countries, some of them allies to the US, would have been unacceptable.
Are moral and humanitarian reasons a sufficient explanation why nukes were never used? I do not know, but find no other.
Civil society organisations have been important in establishing a high nuclear threshold. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has been particularly important in this regard. IPPNW has persistently pointed at the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and warned that a global nuclear war could end human civilisation and, maybe, exterminate mankind. The opinion by the International Court in The Hague, that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was generally prohibited, is also important.
The nuclear-weapon states do not intend to use nuclear weapons except as deterrence against attack. Deterrence, however, works only if the enemy believes that, in the end, I am prepared to use nuclear weapons. Both NATO and Russia have doctrines that nukes can be used even if the other side has not done so. In a conflict of great importance, a side that is much weaker and maybe is in danger of being overrun is likely to threaten to use its atomic weapons. If you threaten to use them you may in the end be forced to follow through on your threat.
The close calls I have described in this article mean that mankind could have been exterminated by mistake. Only decades after the events have we been allowed to learn about these threats. It is likely that equally dangerous close calls have occurred.
So why did these mistakes not lead to a nuclear war, when during the Cold War the tension was so high and the superpowers seemed to have expected a nuclear war to break out?
Let me tell of a close call I have experienced in my personal life. I was driving on a highway, in the middle of the day, when I felt that the urge to fall asleep, which sometimes befalls me, was about to overpower my vigilance. There was no place to stop for a rest. After a minute I fell asleep. The car veered against the partition in the middle of the road and its side was torn up. My wife and I were unharmed.
But if there had been no banister? The traffic on the opposing side of the road was heavy and there were lorries.
The nuclear close calls did not lead to a war. Those who study accidents say that often there must be two and often three mistakes or failures occurring simultaneously.
There have been a sufficient number of dangerous situations between the USA and Russia that could have happened at almost the same time. Shortly before the Able Archer exercise, a Korean passenger plane was shot down by Soviet airplanes. But what if Soviet fighters had, by mistake, been attacked and shot down over Europe? What if any of the American airplanes carrying nuclear weapons had mistaken the order in the exercise for a real order to bomb Soviet targets? In the Soviet Union bombers were on high alert, with pilots in the cockpit, waiting for a US attack.
What if the fighters sent to protect the U-2 plane that had strayed into Soviet territory in Siberia during the Cuba crisis had used the nuclear missile they were carrying?
Eric Schlosser tells in his book about a great number of mistakes and accidents in the handling of nuclear weapons in the USA. Bombs have fallen from airplanes or crashed with the carrier. These accidents would not cause a nuclear war, but a nuclear explosion during a tense international crisis when something else also went wrong, such as the “Petrov Incident” mentioned earlier, could have led to very dangerous mistakes. Terrorist attacks with nuclear weapons simultaneous with a large cyber attack might start the final war, if the political situation is strained.
Dr. Alan Philips guessed in a study from the year 2003 that the risk of a nuclear war occurring during the Cold War was 40%. Maybe so. Or maybe 20%. Or 75%. But most definitely not zero—not close to zero.
Today the danger of a nuclear war between Russia and the USA is much lower that during the Cold War. However, mistakes can happen. Dr. Bruce Blair, who has been in the chain of command for nuclear weapons, insists that unauthorized firing of nuclear missiles is possible. The protection is not perfect. In general, the system for control and for launching is built to function with great redundancy, whatever happens to the lines of command or to the command centers. The controls against launches by mistake, equipment failure, interception by hackers, technical malfunction, or human madness, seem to have a lower priority. At least in the US, but there is no reason to believe the situation in Russia to be more secure.
The tension between Russia and the USA is increasing. Threats of use of nuclear weapons have, unbelievably, been heard.
But we have been lucky so far.
As I said in the beginning of this paper, quoting the Canberra Commission: “The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used — accidentally or by decision — defies credibility. The only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.”
The most important source for this review is the Chatham House Report from 2014 “Too close for comfort.”
Gaza made the front page of The New York Times recently, with an article highlighting the fears of residents who suspect Hamas of building tunnels under and near their homes. The topic was ready-made for the newspaper, fitting perfectly into the Israeli (and Times) spin on the besieged enclave.
According to the accepted narrative, the problems in Gaza are due to Hamas, and Israel is free from blame. Thus we find the tunnel story played prominently on the front page under the headline “As Hamas Tunnels Back Into Israel, Palestinians Are Afraid, Too.”
There is much cause for despair in Gaza—fishermen and farmers come under attack, drinking water is ever more scarce, patients are desperate for adequate medical care—but the Times has failed to highlight any of these issues, which are so clearly due to Israeli actions and policies.
The official Israeli line is that Hamas oppresses the residents under its control, and Israeli political leaders use this charge to help justify their airstrikes on Hamas sites and other actions, such as restrictions on the delivery of building materials to Gaza. The Times has been a willing partner in this effort.
So it is no surprise when the newspaper informs us that Hamas has rebuilt many of the tunnels it used during the assaults on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and this is causing anxiety for some Gaza residents who live near signs of underground construction work. They fear that Israel will bomb their neighborhoods to destroy the tunnels.
The story is just what the Israeli army press office ordered, and the Times willingly promotes this propaganda effort even as it shows little interest in even more urgent concerns that plague the residents of the strip. It had nothing to say, for instance, when Israel arrested 20 Gaza fishermen over less than a week this month and confiscated seven of their boats (here and here) even though they were fishing within the approved limit set by Israel.
Israeli harassment of the beleaguered fishermen has been a constant over the years: According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Israeli forces detained 71 fishermen and confiscated 22 fishing boats in 2015, firing on fishing boats at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. The attacks have continued without letup this year.
The Times, however, has almost totally ignored the subject. The paper took notice briefly last month, when Israel announced new rules allowing Gaza boats to sail farther out to sea, and the story most certainly made the grade because it was a chance to show Israel in a benevolent light. The Times has been silent on the issue ever since.
Farmers with land near the border fence also face frequent attacks by Israeli soldiers who fire live ammunition at workers tending their fields, and Israel has destroyed crops and farm buildings, spraying fields of spinach and peas with herbicides and leveling land with bulldozers.
The Times has failed to report these incursions as well, although the United Nations documents them in weekly reports, and other news sources routinely tell of the assaults.
According to the UN, as of May 16, the Israeli military had made 30 incursions into Gaza this year. Its forces entered the enclave at least 56 times during 2015. These mini invasions—which include tanks, bulldozers and live fire—are breaches of the truce agreement made to end hostilities in 2014, but the Times has not seen fit to report them.
Instead, the newspaper prefers to raise the alarm about possible attacks from Gaza via the tunnels, ignoring the relevant context: the frequent shootings and other assaults by Israeli forces and the nine-year blockade, which finds not a single mention in the tunnel article.
Israel blocks the entry of needed medical supplies into Gaza, denies doctors the right to upgrade their skills in foreign countries and prevents many patients from leaving the enclave to receive the treatment they need. It has destroyed electrical equipment, wells and water treatment plants, and the lack of potable water has reached such a critical stage that only some 5 percent of the water in Gaza is safe to drink.
The Times, however, has shown no interest in exploring these crucial issues. It follows a prescribed narrative in deflecting blame from Israel and demonizing Hamas. The tunnel story fit this bill and thus merited a prime placement on page 1 above the fold.
Aitken et. al. in Nature newly comports to confirm 2015 fears about instability of the Totten Glacier in Eastern Antarctica. This could ‘suddenly’ raise sea level as much as 4 meters! (Or, based on the abstract, maybe only 0.9 meters in ‘modern scale configuration’, but over 2 meters [2.9-4] in unspecified other configurations).
There are two parts to the story of Aitken et. al. 2016: the author’s comments as reported by MSM, and what the paper actually found.
An example from the Weather Channel:
“An Antarctic glacier three-fourths the size of Texas continues to melt into the sea, and if it disappears completely, sea levels will rise dramatically around the world, a new study says. The Totten Glacier is melting quickly in eastern Antarctica and threatens to become yet another point of concern as global temperatures rise, according to the study published in the journal Nature. It’s getting close to a “tipping point,” the study found, and if the glacier collapses, global sea levels could rise nearly 10 feet…”I predict that before the end of the century the great global cities of our planet near the sea will have two- or three-meter (6.5 to 10 feet) high sea defenses all around them,” study author Martin Siegert told the French Press Agency.” [Bolds mine]
From Science Daily, drawn from the Imperial College London press release:
Current rates of climate change could trigger instability in a major Antarctic glacier, ultimately leading to more than 2m of sea-level rise. By studying the history of Totten’s advances and retreats, researchers have discovered that if climate change continues unabated, the glacier could cross a critical threshold within the next century, entering an irreversible period of very rapid retreat. This would cause it to withdraw up to 300 kilometres inland in the following centuries and release vast quantities of water, contributing up to 2.9 metres to global sea-level rise. [Bolds mine]
Finally, the lurid title of Chris Mooney’s article in the WaPo on May 18: ‘Fundamentally unstable’: Scientists confirm their fears about East Antarctica’s biggest glacier
Most of the paper is a complex analysis of detailed gravimetric and magnetic data captured from low pass aircraft mapping an important ridge component of Totten’s subglacial geology.
It is helpful to understand the context for seeking evidence of alarming seal level rise (SLR) (see my previous CE post Sea Level Rise Tipping Points). SLR is not accelerating, so warmunists have searched for future ice sheet ‘tipping points’ that might cause the abrupt SLR supporting urgent CO2 mitigation. Greenland was the initial focus; it is not cooperating because of its bowl shaped geology. See my previous post for details and references.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) was the next focal point. The Ronne Ice Shelf proved pinned and stable per the above linked Tipping Points guest post. ANDRILL showed that the Ross Ice Shelf is also stable; its grounding line hasn’t shifted for about 4 millennia, ditto the Tipping Points sites linked to above. Attention then shifted to the Amundsen Embayment, where much was made in 2014 of the flowing Pine Island Glacier (PIG)–until it was pointed out PIG sits on an active volcano that has nothing to do with global warming. (There are volcanic ash layers embedded in PIG.) WAIS is not cooperating, either. So attention has now shifted to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) where Totten is the biggest glacier/catchment basin, almost half of the above figure’s NASA defined geological sector (which also contains the Moscow University Ice Shelf and the Frost glacier) just ‘east’ of the Wilkes Land sector in the figure below.
Where Totten enters the Southern Ocean, it is mostly grounded in shallows <500 meters deep. This does not affect its stability (like the Ross Ice Sheet), since the first ~500 meters of Antarctic coastal seawater is basically at the freezing point. But warmer seawater below about 500 meters is melting Totten’s base at a deep trough about 5 km wide and about 800 meters deep, discovered in 2015 [link]. This melting causes a slow retreat of the grounding line behind the trough. The annual basal melting/grounding line retreat rate is presently about 100 meters/year, (but as fast as 175 meters per year in some places according to Aitken per WaPo). It is useful to note that Aitken was an author, but not lead author, on the 2015 trough discovery paper.
This deep ocean melting process could move inland for about 150 km through the Sabrina subglacial basin (deep blue in the following figure from the 2015 paper) over about 1500 years before hitting a sub-ice rock ridge perpendicular to the glacier only about 200 meters below sea level, which would stop the melting (since melting water is below ~500 meters). Aitken et. al. 2016 estimate that this would raise sea level about 0.9 meters, or ~6 cm/century. No cause for alarm.
What Aitken et. al. 2016 reports is another fjord like deep ‘fault trench’ through this blocking ridge, which would (if water temperature stratification remained undisturbed) enable basal melting to proceed through the interior Aurora subglacial basin behind the ridge. This process would continue for about another 350 km, or about 40% back into the Totten catchment basin. Aitken et. al. also used ice-penetrating radar to probe both the Sabrina and Aurora basin floors to confirm that Totten did in fact melt back through both basins about 3 million years ago in the Pliocene (before the onset of the current ice ages), with CO2 at about 400 ppm. That was spun into the PR alarm—it happened before at 400 ppm!!! At the current melting rates this would take about 3 millennia and could raise sea level about 2.9 meters, an unalarming 10cm/century. This is probably still far too fast, since all the Aurora warming water would have to enter undisturbed through the newly reported narrow trench through the ridge.
This is NOT fundamentally unstable collapse, implying 2-3 meters SLR by the end of this century, as the authors clearly intimated in their press releases.
How to get 3 feet of SLR by melting the Sabrina basin back to the ridge? Simply assume that all the ice in the catchment basin to the ridge disappears, even that above sea level not subject to seawater melting. To the ridge and ‘trench’, the catchment basin is about 200-250 km wide, the glacier about 100 km wide, its mouth and protruding ice shelf 145 km wide. The assumption is dubious, but not implausible. It would imply ice flow similar to that of coastal northeast Greenland glaciers today (another overhyped SLR alarm favorite), except where there are no such flowing glaciers today, and where Antarctica never gets above freezing in summer (while most of Greenland does, briefly).
How to get 2.9 meters SLR from the red oval? Easy. Just use the same entire catchment assumption to that deeper recessional melting point.
How to get ~4 meters (WaPo)? Just assume that if the Aurora basin behind the ridge melts via trough/trench intrusion of warmer seawater, the entire catchment will then lose all its ice because it lost its Totten ‘plug’ (up catchment ice is about 2.5 km thick).
This is the same assumption Rignot made in raising PIG alarm about losing all the ice in the Amundsen Embayment catchment, even though his own paper showed that is impossible (as per my previous post at CE).
This is the same assumption that the Greenbaum et. al 2015 trench paper cited above made (on which Aitken was a co-author), upon which Aitken et. al. 2016 builds. From its SI,
8. Sea Level Potential for Totten Glacier and the Aurora Subglacial Basin
We estimate the global sea level potential of ice flowing through Totten Glacier using a modified approach applied for Thwaites and Pine Island Glaciers. We find the ice volume within the Totten Glacier Catchment20, correct for the higher density of seawater, subtract the volume of seawater required to replace the submarine ice, and divide the result by the area of the world oceans (3.6E14 m2). The result, ~3.5 meters, is conservative because it implies vertical catchment boundaries whereas, in reality, ice from neighboring catchments would contribute to the total sea level contribution if the entire catchment was drained of ice.
We follow a similar procedure to compute the total potential global sea level contribution of the Aurora Subglacial Basin (ASB) using catchment 13 defined on NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s drainage basin website21. Using that catchment we find that at least 5.1 m of global sea level potential is grounded below sea level and is therefore more susceptible to retreat. This figure assumes that all remaining ice grounded above sea level remains as it is today with unrealistic vertical cliffs. If all of the ice in the ASB were to melt, the total sea level contribution would be closer to 6.7 meters. The sea level figures here have not been corrected for isostatic rebound associated with the removal of ice loading of the crust.
[Note: the 6.7 meters assumes all the ice in this entire sector of the first figure disappears. It is easy to build scary PR from bad assumptions. Rignot blazed a false trail now relied on [SI fn 17, 18] by others.
The alarming estimates from this new Nature paper, particularly as represented by the media, are grievously wrong both with respect to the amount of and the rate of sea level rise that might be associated with melting of the EIAS Totten glacier.
There is unjustified author spin in the press releases and author’s interviews. There are underlying bad assumptions never mentioned except by reference to a previously refuted [here] bad paper by Rignot. A tangled web of deceit, to paraphrase a famous poem.
Consider this a friendly reminder to President Obama on his way to Hiroshima.
No matter how many years one writes books, does interviews, publishes columns, and speaks at events, it remains virtually impossible to make it out the door of an event in the United States at which you’ve advocated abolishing war without somebody hitting you with the what-about-the-good-war question.
Of course this belief that there was a good war 75 years ago is what moves the U.S. public to tolerate dumping a trillion dollars a year into preparing in case there’s a good war next year, even in the face of so many dozens of wars during the past 70 years on which there’s general consensus that they were not good. Without rich, well-established myths about World War II, current propaganda about Russia or Syria or Iraq would sound as crazy to most people as it sounds to me.
And of course the funding generated by the Good War legend leads to more bad wars, rather than preventing them.
I’ve written on this topic at great length in many articles and books, especially this one. But perhaps it would be helpful to provide a column-length list of the top reasons that the good war was not good.
1. World War II could not have happened without World War I, without the stupid manner of starting World War I and the even stupider manner of ending World War I which led numerous wise people to predict World War II on the spot, without Wall Street’s funding of Nazi Germany for decades (as preferable to commies), and without the arms race and numerous bad decisions that do not need to be repeated in the future.
2. The U.S. government was not hit with a surprise attack. President Franklin Roosevelt had committed to Churchill to provoking Japan and worked hard to provoke Japan, and knew the attack was coming, and initially drafted a declaration of war against both Germany and Japan on the evening of Pearl Harbor — before which time, FDR had built up bases in the U.S. and multiple oceans, traded weapons to the Brits for bases, started the draft, created a list of every Japanese American person in the country, provided planes, trainers, and pilots to China, imposed harsh sanctions on Japan, and advised the U.S. military that a war with Japan was beginning.
3. The war was not humanitarian and was not even marketed as such until after it was over. There was no poster asking you to help Uncle Sam save the Jews. A ship of Jewish refugees was chased away from Miami by the Coast Guard. The U.S. and other nations would not allow Jewish refugees in, and the majority of the U.S. public supported that position. Peace groups that questioned Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his foreign secretary about shipping Jews out of Germany to save them were told that Hitler might very well agree to that but it would be too much trouble and require too many ships. The U.S. engaged in no diplomatic or military effort to save the victims in the camps. Ann Frank was denied a U.S. visa.
4. The war was not defensive. FDR lied that he had a map of Nazi plans to carve up South America, that he had a Nazi plan to eliminate religion, that U.S. ships actually assisting British war planes were innocently attacked by Nazis, that Germany was in fact a threat to the United States. A case can be made that the U.S. needed to enter the war in Europe to defend other nations, which had entered to defend yet other nations, but a case could also be made that the U.S. escalated the targeting of civilians, extended the war, and created more damage than might have been, had it done nothing, attempted diplomacy, or invested in nonviolence. To claim that a Nazi empire could have grown to someday include an occupation of the United States is wildly far fetched and not borne out by any earlier or later examples of other wars.
5. We now know much more widely and with much more data that nonviolent resistance to occupation and injustice is more likely to succeed, and that success more likely to last, than violent resistance. With this knowledge, we can look back at the stunning successes of nonviolent actions against the Nazis that were not well organized or built on beyond their initial successes.
6. The good war was not for supporting the troops. In fact, lacking intense modern conditioning to prepare soldiers to engage in the unnatural act of murder, some 80 percent of U.S. and other troops in World War II did not fire their weapons at the enemies. That those soldiers were treated better after the war than soldiers in other wars had been, or have been since, was the result of the pressure created by the Bonus Army after the previous war. That veterans were given free college was not due to the merits of the war or in some way a result of the war. Without the war, everyone could have been given free college for many years. If we provided free college to everyone today, it would take way more than World War II stories to get people into military recruiting stations.
7. Several times the number of people killed in German camps were killed outside of them in the war. The majority of those people were civilians. The scale of the killing, wounding, and destroying made this war the single worst thing humanity has ever done to itself in a short space of time. That it was somehow “opposed” to the far lesser killing in the camps — although, again, it actually wasn’t — can’t justify the cure that was worse than the disease.
8. Escalating the war to include the all-out destruction of civilian cities, culminating in the completely indefensible nuking of cities took this war out of the realm of defensible projects for many who had defended its initiation — and rightly so. Demanding unconditional surrender and seeking to maximize death and suffering did immense damage and left a legacy that has continued.
9. Killing huge numbers of people is supposedly defensible for the “good” side in a war, but not the “bad.” The distinction between the two is never as stark as fantasized. The United States had an apartheid state for African Americans, camps for Japanese Americans, a tradition of genocide against Native Americans that inspired Nazis, programs of eugenics and human experimentation before, during, and after the war (including giving syphilis to people in Guatemala during the Nuremberg trials). The U.S. military hired hundreds of top Nazis at the end of the war. They fit right in. The U.S. aimed for a wider world empire, before the war, during it, and ever since.
10. The “good” side of the “good war,” the party that did most of the killing and dying for the winning side, was the communist Soviet Union. That doesn’t make the war a triumph for communism, but it does tarnish the tales of triumph for “democracy.”
11. World War II still hasn’t ended. Ordinary people in the United States didn’t have their incomes taxed until World War II and that’s never stopped. It was supposed to be temporary. The bases have never closed. The troops have never left Germany or Japan. There are over 100,000 U.S. and British bombs still in the ground in Germany, still killing.
12. Going back 75 years to a nuclear-free, colonial, world of completely different structures, laws, and habits to justify what has been the greatest expense of the United States in each of the years since is a bizarre feat of self-deception that isn’t attempted in the justification of any lesser enterprise. Assume I’ve got numbers 1 through 11 totally wrong, and you’ve still got to explain how the world of the early 1940s justifies dumping into 2017 wars funding that could have fed, clothed, cured, and environmentally protected the earth.
In a letter to the International Network of Genocide Scholars (INoGS), 270 academics from 19 countries have called for the cancellation of the 5th Global Conference on Genocide taking place on 26-29 June at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The letter sent to the organizers of the conference on the 3rd of May points at the hypocrisy of having the conference in Israel at a time when Israel’s actions are “increasingly being viewed through lenses of ethnic cleansing and genocide linked to settler colonialism”. The signatories call on scholars and professionals to boycott the conference should it go ahead.
John Dugard, former UN Rapporteur for Human Rights in the OPT and a signatory to the letter, commented: “There are serious allegations that Israel committed crimes against humanity in its 2014 assault on Gaza. In these circumstances it is highly inappropriate to hold a conference on Genocide in Israel.”
Citing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, the letter expresses shock “that INoGS plans to hold its 2016 Global Conference at the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University that is partially built on stolen Palestinian land in occupied East Jerusalem”. The INoGS conference website bills Jerusalem as part of Israel, defying international consensus on the issue and ignoring Israel’s ongoing and systematic campaign of displacement of Palestinians from the city.
According to Professor John Docker, who has written extensively in the fields of genocide and massacre studies, “Genocide studies is now, it seems clear, actively seeking opportunities to be complicit in Israel’s flouting of international law, not least the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
INoGS did not respond to the joint letter and it had ignored an earlier appeal by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
Dr. Haidar Eid, a member of PACBI, said: “I am an academic living in besieged Gaza. I have witnessed three massacres committed by Israel, I almost lost my own life and saw my comrades, colleagues, relatives, and students perish in them. I have read with agony the names of 44 of our students and colleagues who lost their lives and 66 families wiped out by Israeli weapons. INoGS is lending its name to the perpetrators of these crimes in a move that is not unlike holding a conference on racism in apartheid South Africa.”
The conference is sponsored by five Israeli academic institutions, including the Hebrew University, which have been deeply complicit in Israel’s decades-long oppression of Palestinians. Thousands of academics in the UK, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, US and Brazil have signed national pledges to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The pledges are part of a growing movement to hold Israeli universities accountable to their role in systematic Israeli state violence against the Palestinian people.
The joint letter remains open for endorsements at the following link.
The British government is providing military training to the majority of nations it has blacklisted for human rights violations, a new report reveals.
In a report published on Sunday, the Independent revealed that 16 of the 30 countries on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s “human rights priority” watchlist are receiving military support from the UK despite being accused by London itself of issues ranging from internal repression to the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts.
According to the UK Ministry of Defense, since 2014, British armed forces have provided “either security or armed forces personnel” to the military forces of Saudi Arabia , Bahrain, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Burundi, China, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
Britain is a major provider of weapons and equipment such as cluster bombs and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in its year-long military aggression against Yemen that has killed nearly 9,400 people, among them over 2,230 children.
Since the conflict began in March 2015, the British government has licensed the sale of nearly $4 billion worth of weaponry to the Saudi kingdom.
British commandos also train Bahraini soldiers in using sniper rifles, despite allegations that the Persian Gulf monarchy uses such specialist forces to suppress a years-long pro-democracy uprising in the country.
Bahraini forces visited the Infantry Battle School in Wales last week, accompanied by troops from Nigeria, the Defense Ministry said.
Nigeria’s top military generals are accused by Amnesty International of committing war crimes by causing the deaths of 8,000 people through murder, starvation, suffocation and torture during security operations against the Boko Haram Takfiri terrorists, according to the report.
Andrew Smith, with the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said Britain should not be “colluding” with countries known for being “some of the most authoritarian states in the world.”
U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday headed for his first visit to Vietnam, a trip officially aimed at sealing the transformation of an old enemy into a new partner to help counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region and viewed by veteran communists in the Asian nation as an attempt by Washington to undermine their one-party rule.
However, there is no apology planned by Obama for the massive U.S. bombing of the Asian nation that killed over 3.6 million people, injured over 5 million, left close to 900,000 children orphans and turned 200,000 women into prostitutes, apart from spraying millions of hectares with highly toxic pesticides that affected over 4 million people. The U.S. intervention also left a million women widowed and 11 million people displaced.
But four decades after the Vietnam war that deeply divided opinion in America, Obama aims to boost defense and economic ties with the country’s communist rulers while also prodding them on human rights, aides say.
His visit has been preceded by a debate in Washington over whether Obama should use the three-day visit starting Monday to roll back an arms embargo on Hanoi, one of the last vestiges of wartime animosity.
That would make Beijing uncomfortable, because its government resents U.S. efforts to forge stronger military bonds with its neighbors amid rising tensions in the disputed South China Sea. But there was no immediate word of a final U.S. decision on the issue.
Vietnam’s government earlier this month said lifting the embargo would show mutual trust and that buying arms from its partners was “normal”.
Bilateral U.S.-Vietnam trade has swelled 10 times over since ties were normalized in 1995 to around US$45 billion now. Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s biggest exporter to the United States, with textiles and electronics the largest volumes.
Washington wants Vietnam to open up on the economic front and move closer militarily, including increased visits by U.S. warships and possibly access to the strategic harbor at Cam Ranh Bay, U.S. officials say.
While Vietnam wants warmer ties, some among the party’s old guard remain suspicious that the U.S. endgame is to undermine their one-party rule.
On May 27, Obama is also scheduled to visit Japan, where he is expected to visit Hiroshima. Again, he has no plans to apologize for the nuclear bombing there.
Haaretz reported today that “Israeli Death Penalty for Terrorists Won’t Apply to Jews.”
The death penalty for murder in a ‘terror act’ that incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman seeks will only apply to military courts, said a Likud source involved in the talks to bring Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party into the governing coalition.
Such a move, which Lieberman demands if his party is to join the government, would effectively exclude its application against Jews. Palestinians accused of terror offenses are prosecuted in Israeli military courts, while Jews charged with similar crimes against Palestinians are usually tried in Israeli civilian courts, noted the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The meaning of it is simple. Though Jews are not a race, Jewish politics (left, right and centre) is always racist to the core.
Pakistan has denounced the US drone strike believed to have killed the Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
In a statement issued to the media, Pakistan’s foreign office said the drone strike was a violation of its sovereignty, adding that information about the drone strike was shared with the prime minister and the army chief after the strike.
“It may be recalled that the fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) held on 18th May had reiterated that a politically negotiated settlement was the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan and called upon the Taliban to give up violence and join peace talks,” the statement said.
Afghanistan’s spy agency known as National Security Directorate (NDS), senior officials in Kabul and some militant sources on Sunday confirmed that the Taliban leader was killed after the US drones targeted his vehicle in a remote area of in a remote area of south-west Pakistan, near the Afghan border, on Saturday.
On Saturday, the US Department of Defense announced in a statement that it had mounted the strike against Mansour “in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.”
File photo shows a picture of the leader of Taliban militant group, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
The Pentagon announced on Saturday that the operation had been authorized by President Barack Obama.
The development comes as relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tense in recent years over the ongoing militancy.
Senior Afghan officials blame elements inside the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for supporting the Taliban militants and sheltering its leadership, while Islamabad blames the Afghan government for giving shelter to the militants on its side of the border.
Moreover, senior officials in Kabul have been frustrated by what they see as Islamabad’s refusal to honor a pledge to force Taliban leaders based in Pakistan to join negotiations.
They have long blamed Pakistan for turning a blind eye to the Taliban militant group whose leadership is widely believed to be based in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar, near the border.
The Taliban has seen a string of defections ever since the news about the death of its founder and long-time leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, broke in late July 2015.
Mullah Omar died at a hospital in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi in April 2013.
Pakistan, which wields influence on the insurgent group, mediated the first round of direct peace talks between delegates from the Afghan government and the Taliban last summer, but a planned second meeting was canceled after news broke that Taliban’s founder and long-time leader Mullah Omar had died two years ago. In recent months, a four-member group comprising Afghanistan, the United States, China and Pakistan has been attempting to revive the talks.
There have also been growing differences among Taliban elements over the negotiations, with some vowing to fight for power instead of taking part in the talks.