Handing Over Syria to Iran

Islamic State’s wane sets the stage for regional superpower Iran

This file photo taken on December 14, 2016 shows Syrian pro-government forces advancing during a military operation in the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)

Analysis

The country once known as Syria is being carved up, and Tehran and its terrorist proxies are in a position to benefit more than any other player

The civil war in Syria entered its seventh year last Wednesday.

After six years that UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described to the UN Human Rights Council as “the worst man-made disaster since World War II,” encouraging news came from Astana, Kazakhstan, last week. The third round of Russia-led talks on reconciliation in Syria began with an announcement that a special team would be set up to supervise the implementation of the ceasefire on the ground. The members of the team will be Turkey, Russia, and Iran.

According to a statement by Alexander Lavrentiev, head of Russia’s delegation to the talks, the parties agreed to provide maps showing the location of terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the al-Nusra Front).

But in case anyone thought, even for a moment, that any light was visible at the end of this blood-drenched tunnel, the reports from Damascus brought them back to reality: two terror attacks, one at the Damascus court complex and the other at a nearby restaurant, that killed more than 25 people.

It was an unequivocal message from the Sunni Islamist groups to anyone who was counting on a return to the past and the re-establishment of Greater Syria. Not much is left of the Syria of six years ago. Nearly half a million people have been killed and unknown millions have been wounded. Five million people have left their homes, either displaced or as refugees (a fifth of a population of approximately 22 million). Syria’s economy is crushed, its infrastructures is in ruins, and its population suffers from constant shortages of power, water, and proper medical treatment.

What the Astana talks have made abundantly clear is that Syria is no longer in Syrian hands. An unholy mixture of superpower and other foreign interests is reshaping the map of what used to be Syria. Its coastal strip and several of its large cities are still controlled by Bashar Assad, the nominal president. That area, once known as “Alawistan” for the politically dominant Alawite branch of Islam, is now known by Israeli officials as “Assadistan” (because Sunni residents are the majority in those areas by close to 70 percent), while the rest of the territory is divided among moderate rebel groups, extremists such as Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Kurds and Turkey.

But the picture is even more complicated. The influence of foreign players such as Russia, the United States, and, of course, Iran, is visible in those areas as well. Islamic State’s weakness in the region and its loss of the territory that it used to control — due to massive American aerial attacks, among other things — has resulted, simultaneously, in the entrenchment of significant Iranian influence throughout Syria, mainly in the areas controlled by Assad.

The regional superpower

Thus Iran, as it takes advantage of the civil war in Syria and Islamic State’s takeover in Iraq, is looking more and more like the big winner of the Arab Spring in the region stretching from Tehran to Latakia and southward to Beirut. The Shiite crescent, which King Abdullah of Jordan warned about more than a decade ago, is amassing unprecedented power in the region even without possessing an atomic bomb and with its nuclear program frozen. If the saying “Islam is the solution” was common in the past, particularly among the Sunnis (in reference to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas), perhaps the saying from now on should be that Shiite Islam is the solution.

Iran is in control of with swaths of territory running from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea; it has taken control of Iraq and is expelling Islamic State from there using Shiite militias under its command.

The Hebrew-language Walla news site reported this week that Iran has been paving a “trans-Iraq” highway from Iran to Syria. Tehran has enormous influence over what happens in Syria militarily and economically. It operates a cellular franchise throughout Iraq, and — as was mentioned in talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this month — is working to build a port in Latakia, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

While Iran has not yet begun construction, it has submitted a draft proposal for the port to Assad, who tends toward approving it. The proposal states, in simple terms, that Iran will lease land in the city from Syria and use it to establish the maritime terminal. The port would be under Iranian sovereignty in every way, and the Syrians would have no access to it. In other words, it would be like the naval base that the Russians established in Tartus. The land would be leased to the Iranians for fifty years.

Iran’s influence in what used to be Syria does not end there, of course. Roughly 1,300 to 1,500 Iranians — combat soldiers, intelligence personnel, members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, logistics personnel and others — currently operate there (according to Israeli assessments, 150 to 200 Iranians have been killed so far in the fighting in Syria).

In addition, there are the Iranian-funded Shiite militias, which number approximately 7,000 to 10,000 fighters who came from places as far afield as Pakistan and Afghanistan. And the Shiite fighters of Hezbollah — approximately 8,000 on Syrian soil — who take orders from Tehran (according to various estimates, between 1,700 and 2,000 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria).

Iran has been doing more in recent months than merely transferring arms to Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Syria and in Lebanon. According to a recent report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida, Tehran has begun speeding up its armament effort by setting up rocket-manufacturing facilities in those countries. The details provided in the report are partial, of course. Members of the IRGC supervise the facilities, which are deep underground — in both countries, not only Lebanon.

The arms that are manufactured there ought to cause Israel quite a bit of concern. These are not ordinary rockets that are being added to the usual ordinary arsenal; they are particularly precise.

Iran’s deployment in the post-Arab Spring era does not stop between Tehran and Latakia and Beirut. Indeed, its long arms also stretch to Yemen and the Gaza Strip.

Thus, as the civil war in Syria enters its seventh year, that country’s remaining citizens and the Middle East as a whole may be able to breathe a sigh of relief on one level: Islamic State’s control over the area is weakening. But the Iranian influence, which will have harsh implications for the Sunnis in the region, is growing, and neither calm nor stability is visible on the horizon.

Trump Expands America’s Nuclear Power

Trump budget: An extra billion dollars for nuclear weapons

by Patrick Malone and R. Jeffrey Smith, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY

His draft 2018 budget would drastically curtail State Department spending and foreign aid and end financing for the U.S. Institute of Peace, but boost the budget for nuclear weapons production by 11 percent.

President Trump has proposed to boost federal spending on the production of nuclear weapons by more than $1 billion in 2018 while slashing or eliminating spending on many federal programs related to diplomacy, foreign aid, and social needs, in a budget proposal that reflects the first tangible expression of his defense priorities.

The $1.4 billion budget increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration amounts to just a small fraction of the overall $54 billion boost he requested over the military’s roughly $639 billion 2017 budget, but it is a proportionally higher increase (11 percent) than the Defense Department itself would get (8 percent), signaling that he and his advisers feel the U.S. nuclear weapons program deserves special treatment.

The 64-page budget document released by the White House on March 16 — and entitled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” — contained only a few sentences about the proposal, which would give the NNSA a total of $14.3 billion in fiscal year 2018. But the blueprint said the new spending would support “the goals of moving toward a responsive nuclear infrastructure and advancing the existing program of record for warhead life extension programs.”

That language refers to an existing effort to modernize three types of warheads, so they can be deployed with bombers, submarine-launched missiles, and land-based missiles, some of which will themselves be modernized in years to come. That warhead work is well under way, although the budget document suggested it had been slowed by Obama-era defense spending caps. Some independent experts have cautioned, however, that the speed of the work is limited mostly by its sheer complexity, rather than by fund shortages, and expressed doubt that it could be accelerated.

Trump’s budget proposal also says the additional NNSA funds would address its “critical infrastructure maintenance” needs — which is Washington-speak for everything from laboratories and test tracks to office buildings — which NNSA director Frank Klotz has pegged in public statements at roughly $3.7 billion. That tally includes both nuclear weapons-related work and nonnuclear work related to the cleanup of wastes from past weapons production activities.

Much of the agency’s infrastructure is “antiquated,” having been built during the Cold War, Klotz told a well-timed hearing before the House Armed Services Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee just a few hours after the proposed budget was released. “NNSA is presently busier than we have been for many, many years” but “operations are subject to increasing risk” due to spending shortfalls.

When Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) asked Klotz to provide more detail about how the new funds would be expended, however, he declined to answer. In a written statement, the Department of Energy — of which the NNSA is a part — said the current proposal represents only an overview, and that further details will be divulged in May.

Many in Washington say that Congress is unlikely to approve Trump’s budget. Nonetheless, the special status Trump has assigned to nuclear weapons work is exemplified by the fact that even as the NNSA’s budget would expand under his proposal, the rest of the Energy Department’s budget would decline by around 20 percent, or $1.7 billion.

Gone would be the department’s weatherization, gas mileage, and clean energy programs. The Office of Science, which supports research into new technologies and basic physics as well as climate change, would be cut by nearly twenty percent. Elsewhere in the government, the State Department would get a 28 percent budget cut, funds for U.N. peacekeeping would be scaled back, humanitarian aid would be focused on fewer nations, and all federal spending for the U.S. Institute of Peace would disappear.

The current U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program, which was initiated and strongly supported by former President Obama, was already estimated to cost $1 trillion or more over the next three decades. But Trump, in a Dec. 22 tweet, said “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” — implying that this should be beyond what Obama had set in motion.

As if to hammer that point home, Trump on March 16 also announced the appointment to the position of Pentagon policy chief of a defense analyst who helped write a new U.S. nuclear policy in 2001 that supported research on new types of nuclear warheads. The policy, overseen in part by Trump nominee David J. Trachtenberg, a former Pentagon deputy assistant secretary under President George W. Bush, also downplayed the significance of arms control, and supported an expansion of U.S. ballistic missile defense programs.

In Feb. 2013, Trachtenberg joined other conservative analysts in sending a letter to Obama that urged the president to withdraw his public pledge to pursue the global elimination of nuclear weapons. This agenda, the letter said, would “only result in the unilateral disarmament of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.” It also urged Obama not to endorse further cuts in America’s nuclear arsenal, arguing that such a move would “put our country, its allies, and our peoples at ever-greater risk.” Trachtenberg separately has criticized Obama’s nuclear policy for ruling out “new nuclear weapons, missions or capabilities.”

Trump’s budget document says his choices demonstrate “the Administration’s strong support for the United States’ nuclear security enterprise and [it] ensures that we have a nuclear force that is second to none.”

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group based in Washington, said the budget choices Trump has made will send “a signal that will worry our erstwhile adversaries, Russia, China.” But it will also puzzle our allies, Kimball said, because “they recognize American diplomacy is critical to their security.”

The Center for Public Integrity is a non-profit, independent investigative news outlet. A list of its funders can be found here. For more of its stories on this topic go to publicintegrity.org.

The Real Iran Deal

What future for the Iran nuclear deal?

US-Iran relations have always been complex, but they are likely to become more so due to President Donald Trump’s opposition to the nuclear deal. The issue becomes all the more important at a time when they may need to cooperate in their fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

The nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed on July 14, 2015, after protracted negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, France, Russia, the UK and US — plus Germany.

The deal set a framework that looked more or less acceptable to all sides, but its opponents in the US and Iran did not wait long to point at various discrepancies. A rule in international relations says the longest-lasting deals are usually those that make all parties equally unhappy. We may therefore hope the deal outlives the Trump presidency.

Scrapping it was top of his to-do list during his election campaign. Referring to Iran’s frozen assets that would be released due to the deal, he said: “Allowing access to billions of dollars in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program is not in America’s or the world’s interests.” Negative reactions to this attitude poured in from the capitals of all other parties to the deal.

Trump must have later realized the difficulty of translating into action all his election promises. He softened his rhetoric during his telephone call with Saudi King Salman, when he spoke of “the strict implementation of all provisions of the deal” rather than scrapping it.

The deal limits the number of centrifuges to be deployed in the next 10 years, and the level of enriched uranium under 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. The stockpile of enriched uranium will be kept under 300kg. Iran has abided by these and many other scrupulously worded restrictions, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recognized its full compliance.

President Hassan Rouhani promised during his election campaign in 2013 to open up Iran’s economy. He may maintain the same promise while campaigning for presidential elections due to be held in May. Improvement in Iran’s economy will bring more votes to any political contender. It would be wise to let the public reap the benefits.

Scrapping it was top of Donald Trump’s to-do list during his election campaign. He must have later realized the difficulty of translating into action all his election promises.

Yasar Yakis

Iran is in no hurry to resume its nuclear program because since it has already acquired nuclear technology, it can do so at any time in the future if it becomes necessary. Trump, for his part, does not need to stick to his initial promise of undoing the deal because there are several unrelated means the US can use unilaterally if it wishes to make life difficult for Iran.

For instance, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 abolished all punitive measures imposed on Iran, but unilateral US sanctions blocking Tehran’s access to the international banking system are still in place. These sanctions are outside the scope of the JCPOA. They were imposed by Washington due to Tehran’s support for terrorist groups.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with its 125,000 soldiers, is part of Iran’s army and is tasked by the constitution with protecting the country’s Islamic system. As well as its military activities, the IRGC is a vast conglomerate involved in missile batteries, oil, gas, petrochemical industries and nuclear programs.

It controls multibillion-dollar businesses in all sectors. Its annual income is estimated at $12 billion in business and construction. Such a big economic actor has business relations with all financial institutions in the country.

The US considers the IRGC a terrorist organization, so international financial institutions are worried that they may face sanctions if they do business with Iranian banks that deal with the IRGC. After the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, then-President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry tried to reassure international banks they could do business with Iranian banks, but this verbal reassurance did not dispel their worry.

They asked for a clear guarantee that they would not be sanctioned. Despite the positive approach of Obama and Kerry, the question is still hanging because of the US Treasury Department’s unclear attitude. The irony is that international financial institutions face problems because of US sanctions against the IRGC, but it is the strongest force inflicting losses on Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.

Trump And The Nuclear Button (Ezekiel 17)

Not since the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, have most Americans been jittery about the prospect of a nuclear holocaust. Back then, it seemed like such an immediate possibility that suburban families were constructing fallout shelters and schoolkids were subjected to bomb drills. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, atomic war came to feel like an abstraction, the stuff of sci-fi movies. Then, during the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton started talking about Trump having “access to the nuclear codes,” which has turned out to be more than simple campaign fearmongering. As recently as two weeks ago, the 45th president effectively called for a new nuclear-arms race, and he’s also threatened to revoke the nuclear agreement with Iran and to invade North Korea on account of its recent nuclear tests. Of all the threats Trump poses, surely the gravest (if, let’s hope, the most far-fetched) is that he could set off a firefight that would incinerate the globe.

Atomic-weapons expert Philip Coyle was the head of nuclear-weapons testing under President Bill Clinton and an adviser to the Carter and Obama administrations. And as a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California, he spent 30 years helping design both nuclear arms and the only anti-missile weapon ever deployed by the U.S. Now mostly retired and living in Sacramento, he consults for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a group that lobbies for arms reduction. In other words, there are few people better equipped to explain just how terrified we should be of global annihilation. Below, he discusses the best way of responding to North Korea, why we should be concerned about India and Pakistan, and his own worst nightmares of our nuclear future.

Is there anything about nuclear weapons that would keep us up at night if we knew about it?
Well, for one thing, because I’m old enough, and because of the work I used to do, I’ve actually seen nuclear weapons go off. It’s an amazing, amazingly powerful thing. Once you’ve seen it … It’s something you don’t ever want to see happen during war.

I would watch from miles away. If it’s in a place like the Nevada test site, then you’re in a bunker, protected. Or if it’s underground, then you see the ground heave, which is amazing. If it was in the Pacific, you would watch, perhaps, from a Navy ship. I was the director of the largest underground test the United States ever did — five megatons — in Alaska. On the web, you can see pictures of the ground rising as the explosion goes off. It just goes up and up and up, and it looks like it’s never going to stop. We begin to get an idea [of what it’s like] in violent storms, tornadoes. Violent landslides. But it’s just not the same.

What do you think of the outlook for the Trump administration’s nuclear policy?
It’s a little hard to tell. President Trump has said that nuclear weapons are terrible, or awful, something like that. But on the other hand, he told Mika on Morning Joe, ‘Bring on an arms race!’

Trump has gone back and forth on whether he supports a “No First Use” doctrine. Could you explain what this means and the ramifications?
Yes. It means we pledge we will never be the first to use nuclear weapons. If the other side does, we might use them in retaliation, but we would never start a nuclear war. It’s a way of adding security and stability to the peace process. It has always been set by the president. We don’t know yet what President Trump’s view is.

What was the significance of the North Korea nuclear test, the one in January, that Trump responded to from his Mar-a-Lago dinner table?
North Korea has tested nuclear weapons several times now, and while some of the early tests appeared to be fizzles, the more recent tests look like they have actually achieved relatively small nuclear devices. By ‘small,’ I mean about the size of Hiroshima. They’re not the big thermonuclear weapons of the sort that the United States, Russia, France, and China have. And they don’t have many. And they don’t have many. Congress estimates 10 to 16; other estimates are less than 10—but essentially, a handful. But they’re continuing to test them, and also testing missiles that might carry those weapons. So far, North Korea does not have a missile that can reach the United States, but people worry that given enough time, it could develop one.

The significance [of the January test] was that it was about the same size as the previous one, so it appears they can do it twice in a row. And the previous test may — we don’t know this for sure — may have helped them make some progress toward making their nuclear device smaller. That is, more easily mounted on a missile of some kind.

Mostly their problem so far has been that their missile tests simply haven’t been intercontinental-range. They’ve been short-to-medium range. So they don’t even have the capability to reach Hawaii, let alone the continental United States. However, they certainly are a threat to South Korea and Japan. They’ve tested missiles with enough range to reach either of those countries.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Trump administration is considering military action and regime change in North Korea, among other options, for dealing with the nuclear threat there. What’s your take on that news?
I think the administration is simply considering the options, and that’s not so surprising. I think every administration looks at the options. Some will be more attractive than others. The main thing North Korea wants is for the United States to stop threatening it. Instead, just last week, the U.S. started military exercises in South Korea.

Is the nuclear threat at a level that could warrant an action like regime change?
Certainly it’s a threat that we should be very concerned about. But threatening regime change — all that does is threaten them even more with the very thing they’re worried about. That’s not going to work. What North Korea wants is for us to stop threatening them and to talk with them, and to sit down and try to reach an agreement, perhaps with the help of other countries: namely, South Korea, Japan, and China. When we’ve done that in the past, it has produced salutary results. North Korea has followed the agreements that we’ve made until we do something to break them.

For instance, the Clinton administration had reached an agreement with North Korea, which they were following. The guidelines were not exactly parallel with what has recently happened in Iran, but conceptually they were the same. Then President George W. Bush was elected and immediately began threatening North Korea — and the deal had been that we wouldn’t do that.

So North Korea stopped abiding by the terms as well?
Yes. And that’s the problem with these agreements: They’re very fragile, and it doesn’t take much from either side to trigger an overreaction.

Besides North Korea, which countries should we be most concerned about?
There are also Pakistan and India. People worry that they could get into a regional conflict involving nuclear weapons that would bring in the rest of the world, and all hell would break loose. It could involve large nuclear-weapon states like Russia and China picking sides. Pakistan is estimated to have about 130 nuclear weapons, and India about 120. They tend to match each other. They’ve done exactly the same number of nuclear tests. They keep track and deliberately don’t do more, in order to avoid setting off an imbalance.

Are there any areas where our fears are overblown?
I don’t think you can be too concerned, where nuclear weapons are involved, because they’re so destructive.

You’ve criticized our nuclear defenses for the way they focus on intercepting “limited” attacks. Could you explain what this means and why it’s inadequate?
The missile-defense system that we’ve deployed in Alaska and California involves interceptors which would fly out into space and try to hit, head-on, a missile coming from, say, North Korea. The trouble is, that system has done very poorly in flight-intercept tests — and it’s been getting worse over time, when it ought to be getting better. If you go back over each test since, say, 2000, and look at why it failed, the reasons have varied. A couple failed because the interceptor never got off the ground; a couple failed because the interceptor never separated from its rocket booster.

It’s one of the most difficult things the Pentagon has ever tried to do. You’re trying to hit an enemy target that’s going 15–17,000 miles an hour. You’re going so fast that if you miss by an inch, you can miss by a mile.

Meanwhile, what our development of this intercept system is doing is encouraging other countries to build better offense systems, so that they can overwhelm our missile defenses. Typically in the tests, there’s only one target. You’re trying to shoot down one missile with another missile. There’s no reason why, if Russia were intent on attacking the United States, they would do it that way. They wouldn’t just shoot one missile out of the blue and see what happened — they would fire large numbers of them.

Recently Russia tested an intermediate-range missile that could be nuclear — that could hit Europe, let’s say. If Russia builds a bunch of those, the missile defenses we’re building in Europe right now, in conjunction with NATO will be overwhelmed also. Our system in Europe has interceptors deployed in Romania, and proposed to be deployed, in a year or two, in Poland. Russia hates it because they think it’s aimed at them, and conservative members of Congress say it ought to be aimed at Russia — just reinforcing what Russia worries about. So Russia’s inclination is to be able to overwhelm that system by building more and more missiles.

So it’s a vicious cycle?
Yes, that’s how it works out. If Russia were deploying missile-defense systems in Cuba or Mexico, close to our borders, in the way that Romania and Poland are close to their borders, we wouldn’t like that either. And if the numbers got very large, we’d be just as concerned as Russia is.

What is your worst nightmare of a nuclear disaster?
I have two. One is that somebody builds or steals a nuclear weapon, overseas somewhere. A military faction, for instance. William Perry, the former secretary of Defense under Clinton, has a video outlining how this could happen.

The other is that the United States and Russia will get into another nuclear-arms race and create a much more dangerous world than we’ve had heretofore. You see this in Congress, where various members are calling for new nuclear capabilities on the part of the United States — which, obviously, Russia and China would feel they had to respond to. You see it also in a recent Defense Science Board report, where they recommend low-yield nuclear weapons as a way of deterring Russia — the idea being that, because they’re low-yield, it’s more believable that we would actually use them. But, of course, if the idea is to make them more usable, that makes them more dangerous — because they might actually get used!

There’s a new bill Congress is working on called the Intermediate-Range Forces Treaty Preservation Act. It’s ironic that they call it that. It would be more accurate to call it the Violation Act, because the things it recommends would all be violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty [a 1987 agreement that the U.S. and Russia would eliminate all their ground-launched missiles with a certain range capacity]. It hasn’t been voted on or anything, so maybe it will never happen. But for example, they’re calling for a dual program of a dual-capable — meaning they could be nuclear or nonnuclear — road-mobile missile-launch system, with ranges between 500 kilometers and, say, 6,000 kilometers. Obviously, if the United States did something like that, Russia and China would feel very concerned and feel they had to respond.

So this kind of sword-rattling could ultimately make the world a much more dangerous place.

By and large, Americans aren’t viscerally afraid of nuclear war in the way they were in the 1950s and ’60s. But how close are we actually to the threat of a nuclear holocaust, compared to the situation during the Cold War?
Until very recently, I would have said that we were moving farther and farther away from nuclear war, because the U.S. and Russian stockpiles have been going down, and because other countries that have nuclear weapons have been restrained. They could have built many more than they have so far. And because of this general attitude that nuclear weapons are simply not acceptable anymore, as a moral matter, and that no sane U.S. president would ever use them. But more recently, with the sword-rattling we are talking about, I’ve become more concerned.

You mean since the last campaign cycle began?
Exactly.

The Nuclear Horn of Babylon the Great

How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze

The US nuclear forces modernization program has been portrayed to the public as an effort to ensure the reliability and safety of warheads in the US nuclear arsenal, rather than to enhance their military capabilities. In reality, however, that program has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.

Because of improvements in the killing power of US submarine-launched ballistic missiles, those submarines now patrol with more than three times the number of warheads needed to destroy the entire fleet of Russian land-based missiles in their silos. US submarine-based missiles can carry multiple warheads, so hundreds of others, now in storage, could be added to the submarine-based missile force, making it all the more lethal.

The revolutionary increase in the lethality of submarine-borne US nuclear forces comes from a “super-fuze” device that since 2009 has been incorporated into the Navy’s W76-1/Mk4A warhead as part of a decade-long life-extension program. We estimate that all warheads deployed on US ballistic missile submarines now have this fuzing capability. Because the innovations in the super-fuze appear, to the non-technical eye, to be minor, policymakers outside of the US government (and probably inside the government as well) have completely missed its revolutionary impact on military capabilities and its important implications for global security.

Before the invention of this new fuzing mechanism, even the most accurate ballistic missile warheads might not detonate close enough to targets hardened against nuclear attack to destroy them. But the new super-fuze is designed to destroy fixed targets by detonating above and around a target in a much more effective way. Warheads that would otherwise overfly a target and land too far away will now, because of the new fuzing system, detonate above the target.

The result of this fuzing scheme is a significant increase in the probability that a warhead will explode close enough to destroy the target even though the accuracy of the missile-warhead system has itself not improved.

As a consequence, the US submarine force today is much more capable than it was previously against hardened targets such as Russian ICBM silos. A decade ago, only about 20 percent of US submarine warheads had hard-target kill capability; today they all do.

This vast increase in US nuclear targeting capability, which has largely been concealed from the general public, has serious implications for strategic stability and perceptions of US nuclear strategy and intentions.

Russian planners will almost surely see the advance in fuzing capability as empowering an increasingly feasible US preemptive nuclear strike capability—a capability that would require Russia to undertake countermeasures that would further increase the already dangerously high readiness of Russian nuclear forces. Tense nuclear postures based on worst-case planning assumptions already pose the possibility of a nuclear response to false warning of attack. The new kill capability created by super-fuzing increases the tension and the risk that US or Russian nuclear forces will be used in response to early warning of an attack—even when an attack has not occurred.

The increased capability of the US submarine force will likely be seen as even more threatening because Russia does not have a functioning space-based infrared early warning system but relies primarily on ground-based early warning radars to detect a US missile attack. Since these radars cannot see over the horizon, Russia has less than half as much early-warning time as the United States. (The United States has about 30 minutes, Russia 15 minutes or less.)

The inability of Russia to globally monitor missile launches from space means that Russian military and political leaders would have no “situational awareness” to help them assess whether an early-warning radar indication of a surprise attack is real or the result of a technical error.

The combination of this lack of Russian situational awareness, dangerously short warning times, high-readiness alert postures, and the increasing US strike capacity has created a deeply destabilizing and dangerous strategic nuclear situation.

When viewed in the alarming context of deteriorating political relations between Russia and the West, and the threats and counter-threats that are now becoming the norm for both sides in this evolving standoff, it may well be that the danger of an accident leading to nuclear war is as high now as it was in periods of peak crisis during the Cold War.

How the new accuracy-enhancing fuze works. The significant increase in the ability of the W76-1/Mk4A warhead to destroy hardened targets—including Russian silo-based ICBMs—derives from a simple physical fact: Explosions that occur near and above the ground over a target can be lethal to it. This above-target area is known as a “lethal volume”; the detonation of a warhead of appropriate yield in this volume will result in the destruction of the target.

The recognition that the killing power of the W76 warhead could be vastly increased by equipping it with a new fuze was discussed in a 1994 alternate warhead study conducted by the Defense and Energy departments. The study calculated the number of warheads that would be needed for the W76 to attack the Russian target base, if START II were implemented. At the time, W76/Mk4 warheads had a fixed height-of-burst fuze (meaning the fuze could not adjust its detonation at an optimal location if it were falling short or long of a target). With those fixed-height fuzes, submarine-launched nuclear missiles were mainly aimed at softer targets such as military bases.

But the study found that an enhanced Mk4A reentry-body with a new fuze that provided for an adjustable height-of-burst as it arrives would have significant capabilities against harder targets, compared to warheads with the earlier fuzes. The study assumed that a smaller number of Mk4 nuclear warheads with higher killing power per warhead could cover the Russian target base and be more effective than multiple attacks on targets with less destructive warheads. In other words, an enhanced fuze would allow the United States to reduce the number of warheads on its ballistic missile submarines, but increase the targeting effectiveness of the fleet.

To show the physical relationship of the lethal volume for a particular ground target of interest—in this case a Russian SS-18 ICBM silo—Figure 2 was drawn to scale. Also shown to scale is the approximate spread of warhead trajectories that correspond to a missile that is accurate to 100 meters, a miss distance roughly the same as what is achieved by the Trident II sea-launched ballistic missile.

Miss distances are typically characterized in terms of a quantity called the “circular error probable,” or CEP, which is defined as the radius of a circle around the aim point within which half of the warheads aimed at a target are expected to impact. In the case of a Trident II 100-kt W76-1 ballistic missile warhead, the lethal distance on the ground and the CEP are roughly equal. As a result, roughly half of the warheads equipped with the old, fixed-height fuze system could be expected to fall close enough to detonate on the ground within the lethal range.

The new super-fuze for W76-1/Mk4A has a flexible height-of-burst capability that enables it to detonate at any height within the lethal volume over a target. Figure 3 shows how the new fuze vastly increases the chances that the target will be destroyed, even though the arriving warheads have essentially the same ballistic accuracy.

The super-fuze is designed to measure its altitude well before it arrives near the target and while it is still outside the atmosphere. This measurement would typically be taken at an altitude of 60 to 80 kilometers, where the effects of atmospheric drag are very small. At this point, the intended trajectory is known to very high precision before the warhead begins to substantially slow from atmospheric drag. If the warhead altitude measured by the super-fuze at that time were exactly equal to the altitude expected for the intended trajectory, the warhead would be exactly on target. But if the altitude were higher than expected, the warhead could be expected to hit beyond the intended aim point. Likewise, if the altitude is lower than that expected, the warhead would likely hit short of the intended aim point.

Testing has established the statistical shape and orientation of the expected spread of warhead locations as they fly towards the target. In the case of Trident II, the spread of trajectories around the intended trajectory is so small that the best way to increase the chances of detonating inside the lethal volume is to intentionally shift the aim point slightly beyond the location of the target. (Note that the intended trajectory in Figure 3 is shifted slightly down range.)

By shifting the aim point down range by a distance roughly equal to a CEP, warheads that would otherwise fall short or long of the target using the conventional Mk4 fuze instead will detonate—at different heights dictated by the super fuze—within the lethal volume above a target. This shift in the down-range aim point will result in a very high percentage of warheads that overfly the target detonating in the lethal volume. The end result is that with the new Mk4A super-fuze, a substantially higher percentage of launched warheads detonate inside the lethal volume, resulting in a considerable increase in the likelihood that the target is destroyed.

The ultimate effect of the super fuze’s flexible burst-height capability is a significantly increased target kill probability of the new W76-1/Mk4A warhead compared with the conventional warhead of the same type. Figure 4 shows the probability that warheads will detonate close enough to destroy the ground-target for both the conventional fuze and the super-fuze.

As can be seen the probability of kill using a submarine-launched warhead with the new super-fuze (W76-1/Mk4A) is about 0.86. This 86 percent probability is very close to what could be achieved using three warheads with conventional fuzes to attack the same target. To put it differently: In the case of the 100-kt Trident II warhead, the super fuze triples the killing power of the nuclear force it has been applied to.

Many Russian targets are not hardened to 10,000 pounds per square inch blast overpressure. Figure 5 shows the same probability of kill curves for the case of a target that is only hard to 2,000 pounds per square inch or more of blast overpressure, which is the actual case for almost all targets hardened to nuclear attack—ICBMs and supporting command posts, hardened structures at strategic airbases, submarines at pierside or in protected tunnels, hardened command posts at road mobile missile bases and elsewhere, etc. In this case, the super-fuze achieves a probability of kill of about 0.99—or very near certainty. This case also is equivalent to achieving a probability of kill associated with using three warheads with a 0.83 probability to achieve a 0.99 probability of kill.

The US military assumes that Russian SS-18 and TOPOL missile silos are hardened to withstand a pressure of 10,000 pounds per square inch or more. Since with the new super-fuze, the probability of kill against these silos is near 0.9, the entire force of 100-kt W76-1/Mk4A Trident II warheads now “qualifies” for use against the hardest of Russian silos. This, in turn, means that essentially all of the higher-yield nuclear weapons (such as the W88/Mk5) that were formerly assigned to these Russian hard targets can now be focused on other, more demanding missions, including attacks against deeply-buried underground command facilities. In effect, the significant increase in the killing power of the W76 warhead allows the United States to use its submarine-based weapons more decisively in a wider range of missions than was the case before the introduction of this fuze.

The history of the US super-fuze program. The super-fuze is officially known as the arming, fuzing and firing (AF&F) system. It consists of a fuze, an arming subsystem (which includes the radar), a firing subsystem, and a thermal battery that powers the system. The AF&F is located in the tip of the cone-shaped reentry body above the nuclear explosive package itself. The AF&F developed for the new W76-1/Mk4A is known as MC4700 and forms part of the W76 life-extension program intended to extend the service life of the W76—the most numerous warhead in the US stockpile—out to the time period 2040-2050.

The new super-fuze uses a technology first deployed on the high-yield W88/Mk5 Trident II warhead. The Navy’s Strategic Systems Program contracted with the Lockheed Missile and Space Corporation in the early 1980s to develop a new fuze that included “a radar-updated, path-length compensating fuze … that could adjust for trajectory errors and significantly improve the ability to destroy a target. This was an early and sophisticated use of artificial intelligence in a weapon.”

It was the radar-updated, path-length compensating fuze—combined with the increased accuracy of the Trident II missile—that gave an SLBM the ability to hold a hardened target at risk.

Efforts to incorporate the W88/Mk5 fuze capability into the W76/Mk4 was part of the Energy Department’s Warhead Protection Program in the mid-1990s to permit “Mk5 fuzing functionality (including radar-updated path length fuzing, and radar proximity fuzing) as an option to replacement of the much smaller Mk4 AF&F,” according to the partially declassified 1996 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (emphasis added).

Apart from the inherent drive to improve military capabilities whenever possible, the motivation for increasing the target kill capability of the submarine-borne W76 was that the Air Force’s hard-target killer, the MX Peacekeeper ICBM, was scheduled to be retired under the START II treaty. The Navy only had 400 W88 hard-target kill warheads, so a decision was made to add the capability to the W76.

In an article in April 1997, Strategic Systems Program director Rear Adm. George P. Nanos publicly explained that “just by changing the fuze in the Mk4 reentry body, you get a significant improvement. The Mk4, with a modified fuze and Trident II accuracy, can meet the original D5 [submarine-borne missile] hard target requirement,” Nanos stated.

Later that same year, the Energy Department’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan formally described the objective of the fuze modernization program “to enable W76 to take advantage of [the] higher accuracy of [the] D5 missile.”

By 1998, the fuze modernization effort became a formal project, with five SLBM flight tests planned for 2001-2008. Full-scale production of the super-fuze equipped W76-1/Mk4A began in September 2008, with the first warhead delivered to the Navy in February 2009. By the end of 2016, roughly 1,200 of an estimated 1,600 planned W76-1/Mk4As had been produced, of which about 506 are currently deployed on ballistic missile submarines.

The implications. The newly created capability to destroy Russian silo-based nuclear forces with 100-kt W76-1/Mk4A warheads—the most numerous in the US stockpile—vastly expands the nuclear warfighting capabilities of US nuclear forces. Since only part of the W76 force would be needed to eliminate Russia’s silo-based ICBMs, the United States will be left with an enormous number of higher-yield warheads that would then be available to be reprogrammed for other missions.

Approximately 890 warheads are deployed on US ballistic missile submarines (506 W76-1/Mk4A and 384 W88/Mk5). Assuming that the 506 deployed W76-1s equipped with the super-fuze were used against Russian silo-based ICBMs, essentially all 136 Russian silo-based ICBMs could be potentially eliminated by attacking each silo with two W76-1 warheads—a total of 272 warheads. This would consume only 54 percent of the deployed W76-1 warheads, leaving roughly 234 of the 500 warheads free to be targeted on yet other installations. And hundreds of additional submarine warheads are in storage for increasing the missile warhead loading if so ordered. The Trident II missiles that are deployed today carry an average of four to five W76-1 warheads each. However, each missile could carry eight such warheads if the US were to suddenly decide to carry a maximum load of W76 warheads on its deployed Trident II ballistic missiles. And the missile was tested with up to 12 warheads.

Essentially all the 384 W88 “heavy” Trident II warheads, with yields of 455 kt, would also be available for use against deeply-buried targets. In addition, about 400 Minuteman III warheads, with yields of about 300 kt, could be used to target hardened Russian targets. In all, the entire Russian silo-based forces could potentially be destroyed while leaving the US with 79 percent of its ballistic missile warheads unused.

Even after Russia’s silo-based missiles were attacked, the US nuclear firepower remaining would be staggering—and certainly of concern to Russia or any other country worried about a US first strike.

Because of the new kill capabilities of US submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), the United States would be able to target huge portions of its nuclear force against non-hardened targets, the destruction of which would be crucial to a “successful” first strike. One such mission would likely involve the destruction of road-mobile ICBMs that had left their garrisons to hide in Russia’s vast forests in anticipation of attack. The garrisons and their support facilities would probably be destroyed quickly, and some of the dispersed road-mobile launchers would also be quickly destroyed as they were in the process of dispersing. To destroy or expose the remaining launchers, United States planners would have the nuclear forces needed to undertake truly scorched-earth tactics: Just 125 US Minuteman III warheads could set fire to some 8,000 square miles of forest area where the road-mobile missiles are most likely to be deployed. This would be the equivalent of a circular area with a diameter of 100 miles.

Such an attack would be potentially aimed at destroying all road-mobile launchers either as they disperse or after they have taken up position some short distance from roads that give them access to forested areas.

Many of the nearly 300 remaining deployed W76 warheads could be used to attack all command posts associated with Russian ICBMs. A very small number of Russia’s major leadership command posts are deeply buried, to protect them from direct destruction by nuclear attack. The US military would likely reserve the highest-yield warheads for those targets. Figure 7 below shows an example of a structure that is roughly the size of the US Capitol building that is postulated to have rooms and tunnels as deep as 800 feet or more. Shelters that have rooms and tunnels at even greater depths could be sealed by using multiple nuclear warheads to crater every location where an entrance or exit might conceivably have been built.

The situation with regard to the retaliatory potential of Russia’s ballistic missile submarines is problematic from the point of view of a conservative Russian planner. Although Russia currently has 11 ballistic missile submarines, currently two or three of these missile-carrying submarines are in overhaul and do not carry nuclear warheads. If the full force of available operating submarines not in overhaul could be deployed to sea, Russia could deliver roughly 592 of the full 768 warheads theoretically deployed in its submarine force. At some as yet unforeseen time in the future, Russia might be able to deploy 600 to 700 submarine-based warheads to sea, but a realistic number given the limited availability of crews and equipment might instead be 400 to 500 warheads.

By 2030 to 2040, the United States could easily have built enough Aegis ships to carry 500 to 700 of the newly introduced SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. These new interceptors have a 50 percent higher burnout speed than the older SM-3 Block IA interceptors, giving the Block IIA a greater engagement range and theoretically making it possible to provide missile defense for the continental United States via Aegis ships stationed off the country’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

For all practical purposes, the intercept capability of the SM-3 Block IIA is negligible. Both the infrared homing sensors on these interceptors and the US early warning tracking radars that cue the interceptors to their targets have no practical ability to distinguish between warheads, pieces of rocket upper stages, and decoys. But the appearance created by the vast expansion of this missile defense program can and will contribute to perceptions among Russians that the United States is seeking nuclear dominance.

The Russians have most recently reacted to this ongoing program by publicly displaying and implementing a new and novel sea-based nuclear weapons delivery device as a hedge against US missile defenses.

In particular, Russia is now in the process of testing a 40-ton nuclear-powered underwater unmanned vehicle (UUV) that could robotically deliver, across thousands of kilometers, a 100-megaton nuclear warhead against the coastal cities and ports of the United States. The technical details of this bizarre system were released by Putin himself in September 2015—apparently intentionally—and testing began in December 2016. Such actions by the Russian government clearly indicate a grave concern about the unpredictable character of ongoing US missile defense programs.

In addition to upgrading the hard-target kill capability of the W76 warhead, the US military also appears to be working to increase the targeting capability of the warheads on the land-based Minuteman III ICBM force. The Minuteman III is much less accurate than Trident II, with a CEP of about 160 meters, compared to the roughly 100-meter CEP now achieved by Trident II. These differences mean that the probability of kill could be two to two-and-a-half times higher for the same weapon carried by a Trident II with a 100-meter CEP versus a Minuteman III with a 160-meter CEP. Without a major guidance upgrade, Minuteman III could not be expected to achieve nearly the nuclear warfighting capacity of the Trident II.

The Air Force is working on an upgrade to the AF&F used on the Mk21 reentry vehicle containing the W87 warhead. The W87/Mk21 warhead arms about half of the ICBM force, with the other half carrying the W78/Mk12A.

Our analysis shows that fitting Minuteman III warheads with super-fuzes will give the Minuteman III essentially the same hard target kill capability as the MX had with its cutting-edge Advanced Inertial Reference Sphere (AIRS) guidance system; the MX was retired in 2005. The first production unit Mk21 fuze is planned for early 2020s with production expected to continue through 2029. The Air Force is planning to use the W87/Mk21 on a new ICBM planned for deployment in 2030.

Shortfalls in Russia’s early warning system. In January 1995, a lone sounding rocket was launched from an isolated Island off the Northwest Coast of Norway. Even though the rocket was heading toward the North Pole, not at Russia, we now know that as it rose over the horizon of the curved Earth, it was tracked by the Russian early warning radar on the Kola Peninsula at Olenegorsk. Because it was on a near-vertical trajectory, the automated tracking algorithms utilized by the radar interpreted the characteristics of the trajectory as matching a Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile on a mission to detonate a nuclear weapon in front of the radar’s field of view, making the radar incapable of detecting nuclear warheads coming from longer range.

That the Russian early warning system reacted to this innocuous launch unambiguously indicates that the Russian warning system has at least some measures within it to alert Russian forces to events that could indicate an evolving US nuclear preemptive attack.

If the United States were to execute such an attack against Russia, Russia would certainly know that the most dangerous and most quickly arriving nuclear warheads would come from US submarine-launched ballistic missiles on station in the North Atlantic. Given the extremely high lethality of essentially all US submarine-based warheads, a well-coordinated US attack would not need to employ US land-based Minuteman ICBMs if its initial aim was to simply destroy Russia’s silo-based ICBMs before they could be launched.

Such a “warfighting attack” would likely begin with the detonation of a nuclear warhead in front of key early-warning radars. An explosion of a 455 kiloton Trident II warhead at an altitude of 1,300 to 1,400 kilometers would create an area of radar “blackout” that would prevent all Russian radars looking toward the United States and into the northern parts of the North Atlantic from observing US ballistic missiles as they rose over the radar horizon.

US missile launches from the North Atlantic would be coordinated to rise over the radar horizon only after the Russian radars had been blinded. Even if the radars were not rendered ineffective, the Russians could reasonably expect to have no more than seven to 10 minutes of warning before Moscow was destroyed. (See the table showing decision-making timelines below.)

The false alert of 1995 would not have occurred if Russia had a reliable and working global space-based satellite early warning system. Russian analysts would have been able to observe that there were no US ballistic missile launches from the North Atlantic. The availability of such a system would have caused the initial alert to be called off within minutes or even more quickly.

Detailed analyses, initially stimulated by questions about why the alert went on for so long, showed that a specialized space-based Russian early warning system called Prognoz was then under development. Analysis of the Prognoz satellite constellation and of available Russian infrared sensor technologies indicated that even if the satellite system had been working, it would not have been able to provide surveillance of the North Atlantic. Today, Russia has stopped launching satellites into this constellation and has instead focused enormous resources exclusively into building a highly robust and redundant network of ground-based radars. It is now very clear that Russia’s extreme de-emphasis on satellite early warning systems and its extreme focus on building numerous, technologically varied ground-based radar warning systems is due to the lack of critical technologies needed to implement a space-based ballistic missile warning system.

Facing the existential threat of a short-warning attack with accurate and powerful sea-launched, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and no ability to quickly detect their launch with space-based early warning systems, Russian leadership would seem to have little choice but to pre-delegate nuclear launch authority to lower levels of command. Many possible ways of pre-delegating authority are possible, but none of them are free of dangers that could increase the chances of accidents that could ultimately result in the mistaken launch of Russian nuclear forces. Forcing this situation upon the Russian government seems likely to be detrimental to the security interests of the United States and its Western allies.

Our conclusions. Under the veil of an otherwise-legitimate warhead life-extension program, the US military has quietly engaged in a vast expansion of the killing power of the most numerous warhead in the US nuclear arsenal: the W76, deployed on the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines. This improvement in kill power means that all US sea-based warheads now have the capability to destroy hardened targets such as Russian missile silos, a capability previously reserved for only the highest-yield warheads in the US arsenal.

The capability upgrade has happened outside the attention of most government officials, who have been preoccupied with reducing nuclear warhead numbers. The result is a nuclear arsenal that is being transformed into a force that has the unambiguous characteristics of being optimized for surprise attacks against Russia and for fighting and winning nuclear wars. While the lethality and firepower of the US force has been greatly increased, the numbers of weapons in both US and Russian forces have decreased, resulting in a dramatic increase in the vulnerability of Russian nuclear forces to a US first strike. We estimate that the results of arms reductions with the increase in US nuclear capacity means that the US military can now destroy all of Russia’s ICBM silos using only about 20 percent of the warheads deployed on US land- and sea-based ballistic missiles.

Eventually, super-fuze upgrades will make it possible for every SLBM and ICBM warhead in the US arsenal to perform the hard-target kill missions that were initially envisioned to be exclusively reserved to MX Peacekeeper ICBM warheads.

The W76 upgrade reflects a 25-year shift of the focus of US hard-target kill capability from land-based to sea-based ballistic missiles. Moreover, by shifting the capability to submarines that can move to missile launch positions much closer to their targets than land-based missiles, the US military has achieved a significantly greater capacity to conduct a surprise first strike against Russian ICBM silos.

The decision by the Obama administration in 2009 to deploy the Aegis ship-based European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense system has created a program under which the United States could eventually have between 500 to 700 anti-missile interceptors that could in theory be used to defend the continental United States from ships off the country’s coasts. In spite of its severe limitations, this growing defense system could appear to both Russia and China as a US attempt to reduce the consequences of a ragged Russian or Chinese retaliation to a US first strike against them.

We cannot foresee a situation in which a competent and properly informed US president would order a surprise first strike against Russia or China. But our conclusion makes the increased sea-based offensive and defensive capabilities we have described seem all the more bizarre as a strategy for reducing the chances of nuclear war with either Russia or China.

That Russian silos are more vulnerable to W76-1/Mk4A warheads will not come as an earth-shattering revelation to Russian military officials; they would have to expect that the silos would be destroyed anyway, by US land-based ICBMs. But the growing capability of the US forward-deployed sea-based nuclear missiles could raise serious questions in the minds of Russian military planners and political leadership about US intentions—especially when seen in context of growing US cyber, advanced conventional, and missile defense capabilities—almost certainly deepening mistrust and encouraging worst-case planning assumptions in Moscow.

We end this article with quotes from Vladimir Putin, talking impromptu to a group of journalists during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016. His unrehearsed remarks are clear and candid predictors of how he will assess the implications of the super-fuze:

No matter what we said to our American partners [to curb the production of weaponry], they refused to cooperate with us, they rejected our offers, and continue to do their own thing.

Time to Prepare For Nuclear War

Top U.S. General: America’s ‘Nuclear Modernization Can No Longer Be Deferred’

by EDWIN MORA
9 Mar 2017

Top U.S. General: America’s ‘ Nuclear Modernization Can No Longer Be Deferred’

The U.S. military cannot afford to wait when it comes to modernizing and recapitalizing America’s nuclear capabilities, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told lawmakers.

In written testimony prepared for Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing on the military assessment of nuclear deterrence requirements, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice-chairman, noted that the armed forces had placed nuclear deterrence, including weapons, infrastructure, and personnel, at the top of their modernization priorities list.

He added:

Nuclear modernization can no longer be deferred. Previous decisions to defer modernization have resulted in overlapping acquisition programs today, which present two major consequences.

First, any disruption to the current program of record or future acquisition plans will introduce risk to our strategic [nuclear] deterrent… Second, the cost of funding modernization and replacement of the entire nuclear enterprise all at once is substantial.

Current projections already show that the Pentagon is expected to increase spending on the nuclear deterrent by billions, from about 3 percent (nearly $20 billion) of its fiscal year 2016 budget to more than double (6.5 percent) the amount in the late 2020s when the budget is likely to be higher.

“Despite these risks and costs, there is no higher priority for the Joint Force than fielding all components of an effective nuclear deterrent, including weapons, infrastructure, and personnel,” Selva told lawmakers.

“The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter a strategic attack against the United States, its allies, and its partners,” he added. “Simply put, nuclear weapons pose the only existential threat to the United States and there is no substitute for the prospect of a devastating nuclear response to deter that threat.”

Although the general stressed that it is high time to overhaul American’s nuclear capabilities, he noted that the United States is currently capable of responding to an unforeseen emergency.

Gen. Selva pointed out that Russia and China pose the top strategic nuclear threats to the United States but added that the inventory of adversaries is growing.

“No one should doubt that our weapons, delivery systems, the infrastructure that supports them, and the personnel who operate, monitor, and maintain them are prepared today to respond to any contingency,” he declared. “Our current challenge, however, is to maintain this high level of readiness and capability as long as the policy and strategy of this nation depends in part on nuclear weapons for its security.”

Currently, the U.S. military’s nuclear deterrent capabilities stand near a crossroads.

“We are now at a point where we must concurrently recapitalize each component of our nuclear deterrent,” explained the general during his verbal testimony. “The nuclear weapons themselves, the triad of strategic delivery platforms, the indication-and-warning systems to support our decision processes, the command-and-control networks that connect the president to our field forces, and our dual-capable tactical aircraft that can be equipped with nonstrategic nuclear weapons.”

For more than two decades, the U.S. military has been forced to defer some nuclear force modernization to deal with other more urgent needs while ensuring that the country’s nuclear capabilities and infrastructure remain safe, reliable, and secure.

“In making those decisions we have squeezed about all the life we can out of the systems we currently possess,” Selva told lawmakers. “So that places an extra premium on a very deliberate long-term investment strategy to replace those systems as existing systems age out of the inventory.”

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, testified alongside Selva.

He noted that other nations, including U.S. adversaries, have continued to modernize and revamp their nuclear abilities as America squeezes the life out of its nuclear weapons stockpile, delivery systems, and other essential infrastructures at a time when the U.S. is facing unpredictable threats posed by the current multi-domain, multi-challenge security environment.

“Maintaining strategic deterrence, assurance and escalation control capabilities requires a multifaceted long-term investment approach and a sustained commitment to maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent,” noted Gen. Hyten, adding that “nuclear deterrent is only as effective as the command and control that enables it to function.”

Nuclear weapons continue to play a significant role in keeping the U.S. homeland safe.

Nevertheless, America has drastically reduced “the role and prominence of nuclear weapons in our defense planning” and “both the number of deployed weapons and the overall size of our stockpile” since the end of the Cold War, testified ret. U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

In his written testimony, he noted that “shaped by presidential initiatives and arms reduction agreements, by 2018 the number of weapons deployed on triad systems will be barely one‐tenth of Cold War highs.”

America Prepares For Nuclear War

 Donald Trump sends B-52 NUCLEAR BOMBERS to South Korea after North fires missiles at Japan and US warns of ‘overwhelming’ response

DONALD Trump is reportedly planning to send nuclear bombers to the Korean peninsula as tensions in the region reach breaking point.

North Korea and the US have been teetering on the brink of war for months after Kim Jong-un carried out a series of controversial missile launches.

Earlier this week, trigger-happy Kim pushed his luck once more when he fired off four ballistic missiles into the seas near Japan.

Now US military chiefs are reportedly planning to fly in B-1 and B-52 bombers – built to carry nuclear bombs – to show America has had enough, according to the Korea Times.

South Korea and the US have also started their annual Foal Eagle military exercise sending a strong warning to North Korea over its actions.

A military official said 300,000 South Korean troops and 15,000 US personnel are taking part in the operation.

Secretary of Defence James Mattis said the US “remains steadfast in its commitment” to the defence of the South, according to Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt Jeff Davis.

Capt David said: “He further emphasised that any attack on the United States or its allies will be defeated and any use of nuclear weapons will be met with a response that is effective and overwhelming.”

Washington is reportedly expected to deploy a series of strategic assets from the US as well as from military bases in Guam and Japan, reports the Daily Mail.

The USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier, will join the Foal Eagle exercise after departing from San Diego.

The nuke-powered aircraft carrier will carry dozens of fighter jets, early warning aircraft and anti-sub craft.

It will be accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers.

From the US Marine Corps in Japan, F-35B stealth fighters will be deployed to the peninsula for the first time.

“An F-35B is capable of evading anti-aircraft radar and making preemptive strikes,” a military official said.

North Korea repeatedly protests that both Foal Eagle and Key Resolve are rehearsals for invasion.

Pyongyang’s Korea Central News Agency reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has stressed “a need for preparation for a fight”.

He listed guidelines to strike South Korea and the US “mercilessly”.

Iranian Hegemony Courtesy of Obama

Iran’s leader, military spend billions on terror and weapons, Iranian dissidents report

By Rowan Scarborough – The Washington Times – Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Iran has spent up to $100 billion in the past five years financing operations in Syria that were instrumental in keeping President Bashar Assad in power, according to a book on the hard-line Islamic theocracy’s vast business holdings and wealth.

The e-book “Iran: The Rise of the Revolutionary Guards’ Financial Empire” estimates that the Islamic republic has paid nearly $100 million a year in salaries to a grab bag of mercenaries it sent to Syria under the direction of the notorious Quds force.

Iran is meddling in Syria as the Shiite-dominated regime directs the largest arms buildup in its history, focusing on new missiles and ways to deploy forces into regional conflicts, such as Syria’s civil war.

The e-book was released Wednesday by the Islamic republic’s largest internal dissident group — the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which includes the operational People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK).

The study has two purposes. The first is to document a major corporate and money grab by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a military branch that exports terrorism and tenaciously protects all aspects of the mullahs’ rule over 79 million people.

Khamenei’s office has devoured virtually everything that matters,” the e-book says.

Second, the book is a warning to the West. Investments in the post-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal hammered out by the Obama administration, will not enliven the private sector but will increase the holdings of the ayatollah and the IRGC — a tandem that the U.S. calls the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

“The book is intended to show that behind the veneer of the official banks and seemingly benign companies lies a web of institutions controlled by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and his ideological terrorist arm, the Revolutionary Guard Corps,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the dissident group’s Washington office.

The ayatollah has consolidated his real estate and corporate empire, everything from gas and oil to bread and chickens, into his headquarters, the Sedat. His net wealth, Reuters estimated in 2013, stood at nearly $100 billion.

Since 2005, Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC accomplished this confiscation by transferring assets into euphemistically named “cooperatives,” which are nothing more than state-owned.

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IRGC’s cooperative is in the form of a foundation that controls automobile factories, construction firms and other assets. The IRGC has its own domestic enforcer, the Bassij, which also controls a large business and land portfolio.

“The implications of this stunning power grab are better grasped in light of the fact that these institutions exercise virtually absolute control of all decision-making processes, legislative mechanisms, intelligence gathering and access to significant budgetary commitments,” the dissidents write.

“Foreign investors cannot in practical terms avoid entanglement by affiliation in the Iranian regime’s behavior, including its support for terrorism, continued aggressive policies towards regional countries, manufacture and testing of ballistic missiles, and systematic egregious human rights violations inside Iran,” the e-book argues.

In reality, it says, “the back-breaking control of the regime over the entire economic system and the astonishing growth of extremely disruptive and obstructive rules and regulations severely limit freedom of action, leaving little or no room for genuine free-market competition in Iran.”

Dissidents say the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has further emboldened Iran, as opposed to moderating its expansion-minded leaders. Crackdowns and hangings of opposition figures have increased.

Iran’s adventures abroad have expanded. The regime has built an army of 100,000 Shiite militiamen to fight the Islamic State but also can be called upon to keep the Iraqi government in line with Tehran’s priorities. The MEK blames the Quds force for many of the atrocities in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo, which now lies in rubble.

All the while, Iran has remained in perpetual recession, with double-digit inflation and unemployment. The World Bank says its poverty rate is 9 percent based on a poverty line of $5.50 a day. The U.S. poverty rate is $24,250 for a family of four.

The World Bank is predicting 4 percent economic growth this year as a result of new foreign investment.

The e-book says the West is falling for Iran’s argument that sanctions stifled its state-directed economy.

“International sanctions were never the cause of Iran’s economic ills, which is why their lifting has not provided the cure,” it says. “There are systemic, entrenched forces at play that have to do with the nature and sociopolitical roots of the political system in power today.”

Where is Ayatollah Khamenei spending his newfound wealth?

A priority is ballistic missiles, some of which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The book estimates that Iran has spent $11 billion alone on ICBMs from rogue state North Korea, based on a 2009 agreement.

Military spending has gone from $3 billion annually in 2008 to $13 billion in 2015. Tehran spends another $3.4 billion annually on internal security and $1.4 billion annually on the “export of fundamentalism.”

It all adds up, the dissidents say, to “an economy allocated to terrorism, suppression and warmongering.”

The group’s estimate for the billions of dollars spent in Syria comes from analyzing the salaries of the thousands of fighters Iran pays and the cost of operations. There is no official government budget number.

The security spending has increased from a 17 percent share of the annual budget to 30 percent, squeezing out public welfare and infrastructure.

“This rising trend is further proof of the hypothesis presented in this book that the overhaul of the Iranian economy is geared towards ensuring the survival of the velayat-e faqih system.”

“Velayat-e faqih” is the Persian name for the Islamic government and its justification for economic control, as expounded by the Islamic Revolution’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who seized power in 1979. Ayatollah Khamenei said recently that the revolution continues.

The environment has not been spared. The regime’s penchant for building dams and redirecting rivers has destroyed water resources such as Lake Urmia, which today is a dry bed of salt.

These water resources are often redirected to succor Iran’s top priority: nuclear power and weapons development.

“It results from a willful calculation to ensure the survival of a regime that has brought about the collapse of the country’s natural resources,” the book says.

Iranian Hegemony And The Shia Sickle

Study: Iran plays ‘destructive role’ in Iraq, Syria and 12 other nations

A joint study by two European non-governmental organisations that have strong links to EU parliamentarians and other senior European and international figures has accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of 14 Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and playing a “destructive role” in the region.

The study by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), led by former Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, and the International Committee in Search for Justice (ISJ), both Brussels-based NGOs, paints a dire picture of Iranian interventionism in the region, and accuses Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being directly involved.

“[Iranian] meddling in the affairs of other regional countries is institutionalised and the IRGC top brass has been directly involved,” the report said, directly implicating the Iranian military and state apparatus in destabilisation operations around the Middle East.

The report, released earlier this week, criticised the IRGC for undertaking a “hidden occupation” of four countries, namely Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

“In all four, the IRGC has a direct, considerable military presence,” the report detailed, adding that the troop presence in Syria alone in the summer of 2016 was “close to 70,000 Iranian regime proxy forces”. This included not only Iranians, but also sectarian Shia jihadists recruited, trained, funded and controlled by the IRGC, hailing from Iraq, Afghanistan and further afield.

The report exposed the locations of 14 IRGC training camps within Iran where its recruits are divided up according to their nation of origin and the tasks they are allotted, whether front line combat or international terrorist activities.

The European study said: “Every month, hundreds of forces from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon – countries where the [Iranian] regime is involved in frontline combat – receive military training and are subsequently dispatched to wage terrorism and war.”

According to the researchers who compiled this report, one of the worst affected countries due to Iranian meddling and interventionism is Iraq. Even Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, who was recently appointed to the post in January 2017 used to be the head of the Iraq desk at the IRGC.

‘Designate IRGC as terrorists’

Iran has been increasingly emboldened to act since former US President Barack Obama authorised the much touted nuclear deal with the Tehran regime, the NGOs argued. The deal, brokered by the so-called P5+1, was designed to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions that likely sought to acquire atomic weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

Since sanctions have been largely lifted at the beginning of 2016, Iran has enjoyed increased financial and economic clout, which it has subsequently invested in its efforts to destabilise and influence more than a dozen countries in the Middle East.

The main countries assessed in the report include: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Palestine. The latter is seen by experts on the region to be a public relations campaign conducted by Tehran to increase its Islamic credentials by appearing to support the Palestinians against Israel, while helping regimes around the region crush Palestinian refugee communities.

A prominent example of Iranian support for the brutal crackdowns against Palestinians was in Iraq after the illegal 2003 US-led invasion, where Palestinian refugees were perceived by Iran and their proxy Shia jihadists as being pro-Saddam Hussein. Iranian assistance for killing Palestinians also occurred in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, during the ongoing war against dictator Bashar Al-Assad.

Among its recommendations in its conclusion, the report argued that the IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organisation in the US, Europe and Middle East, with its operations curtailed and the organisation expelled from the entire Middle East, especially Iraq and Syria.

The NGOs also recommended “sanctioning all financial sources and companies affiliated with the IRGC” as well as “initiating international efforts to disband paramilitary groups and terrorist networks affiliated with the [IRGC’s] Quds Force.”

Trump Pushes For More Nukes

Trump: U.S. will remain at ‘top of the pack’ on nuclear weapons

David Jackson | USA TODAYUpdated 8:15 p.m. ET Feb. 23, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump pledged Thursday to keep the United States at thetop of the pack” in terms of nuclear weapons, expanding the nation’s nuclear arsenal if necessary and suggesting that changes to a treaty with Russia could be possible.

“I am the first one that would like to see everybody — nobody — have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country,” Trump told Reuters in an interview. “We’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.”

In December, after Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about enhancing his country’s nuclear capability, Trump responded with a tweet: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The current strategic arms limitation treaty, called New START, calls for limits on U.S. and Russian arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons.

In the Reuters interview, Trump described new START as a “one-sided” agreement.

Just another bad deal that the country made, whether it’s START, whether it’s the Iran deal ... We’re going to start making good deals,” Trump said.

Trump also said: “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

Asked about Trump’s statements about nuclear weapons, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was responding to a question about other countries increasing their nuclear arms. “The United States will not yield its supremacy in this area to anybody,” Spicer said.

Trump made the comments during an interview with Reuters that also touched on issues involving Russia, China and North Korea.

In his interview with Reuters, Trump also:

• Said Russian deployment of a new type of cruise missile violates an arms control treaty, and he will raise the subject with Putin “if and when we meet;” no such meeting is yet scheduled. Trump has been criticized by Democrats who say he has been too friendly toward the Russian leader.

• Sought to pressure China over the nuclear challenge from North Korea, saying the Beijing government could solve it “very easily if they want to.” Trump said he personally is “very angry” at North Korea over recent ballistic missile tests and may accelerate a missile defense system to protect Japan and South Korea. China, however, has said it would ban all imports of coal from North Korea, which depends on its trade with China for a large chunk of its income.

• Spoke favorably of some kind of tax on goods flowing across the border but did not endorse a specific plan. “I certainly support a form of tax on the border,” he told Reuters. “What is going to happen is companies are going to come back here, they’re going to build their factories and they’re going to create a lot of jobs and there’s no tax.”

• Said the administration will take up tax reform after a plan to change the Affordable Care Act, former president Barack Obama’s health care plan.