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Return of a Nuclear Arms Race?

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Europeans reveal who they wish was in the White House

By Jonathan Marcus Defence and diplomatic correspondent, Munich, Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US Vice President Mike Pence shake hands at a photo call during the 55th Munich Security ConferenceImage copyright AFP/Getty Image caption German Chancellor Angela Merkel (r) questioned the US's tariff war with China

The Munich Security Conference is celebrating its 55th birthday. Long a fixture on the security conference circuit, it takes place in the rather dated grandeur of the Bayerischer Hof Hotel. While Russian and Chinese spokesmen attend, it is essentially a forum for Europeans and Americans to renew their security vows.

In the press centre along with the cold drinks, newspapers, worthy reports and so on, there are some small boxes containing a jigsaw puzzle.

A rather dull picture of the conference hall is broken up into 55 pieces for 55 years for anyone who wishes some distraction from the speeches.

The puzzle is perhaps an unintended metaphor for the state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato).

It is beset by problems; something which the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on probably her last visit here while in office, made abundantly clear.

 

With a deadline fast approaching for the US Department of Commerce to submit a report on proposed tariffs against imported cars, Mrs Merkel said such a prospect was frightening. She called for proper talks on the matter.

The US report is being drafted in the light of legislation that allows for the provision of tariffs against goods that might be a threat to US national security.

  Image caption The jigsaw puzzle is perhaps an unintended metaphor for the state of Nato

The German chancellor was blunt. She noted, for example, that BMW's largest plant was actually in the US state of South Carolina, from where many of the vehicles were exported to China.

Is this really a threat to US security, she asked, rhetorically adding: "It's a bit of a shock to us!"

But the tariff battle is just one of a raft of issues here in Munich that are causing tensions between the Trump administration and its European allies.

Mrs Merkel questioned if now was the right time to be thinking about pulling troops out of Syria as President Trump proposes to do once the battle against the Islamic State group is won.

She disagreed with the Trump administration's efforts to pull the plug on the nuclear agreement with Iran, asking whether this really was the best way to deal with its negative behaviour in the region.

And she expressed disappointment about the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. She accepted that after "years of violations" by the Russians there was probably no alternative.

But many here feel that this is a treaty with huge significance for the Europeans, who have really had no say about its demise.

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Next up was US Vice-President Mike Pence, who attempted to build a convincing case for President Trump as the leader who was galvanising the western alliance to face new challenges.

For a time he seemed to be presenting the "glass half-full" case; praising, for example, increased defence spending among many European Nato countries. But inevitably he returned to the issues that divide many European capitals from Washington.

Just as in his recent Warsaw speech, he condemned the EU once again for seeking, in his view, to undermine sanctions against Iran. He urged the Europeans to walk away from the nuclear agreement with Tehran.

He criticised those Europeans who are still going ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia that bypasses Ukraine. Implicitly, his sights were on Germany.

How different then when the veteran Democratic politician and former Vice-President Joe Biden came to the podium.

He was introduced by an almost gushing Nicholas Burns - the former senior US diplomat (and no supporter of Mr Trump) - who mused (to rapturous applause) on how nice it would be if the US had a leader who, "rather than embracing Kim Jong-un or Victor Orban would have embraced our true friend Angela Merkel".

Listening to Mr Biden's speech, I searched for hints as to whether he would make a run for the White House. He was certainly a candidate for many people in the room.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden reacts during the annual Munich Security Conference in MunichImage copyright Reuters Image caption Former Vice-President Joe Biden could be Europeans' favourite in the next US election

In a blunt reference to President Trump, he said: "Leadership in the absence of people who are with you is not leadership." He spoke of a "struggle for America's soul".

The majority of Americans wanted the US to take an active role in world affairs, he insisted. "This too shall pass," he asserted, "We will be back."

Was that the hint? Mr Biden is not going to announce his presidential bid in Munich, but if the applause was anything to go by, he would clearly be the Europeans' favourite over Mr Trump.

But the fact is that the current president is in office for two and possibly six more years.

He has altered the landscape of the trans-Atlantic relationship at a time when the institutions of the liberal international order (of which Nato and the EU are key building blocks) are facing new challenges both from within and from outside.

There are, if you like, two Americas here in Munich represented by the current and former vice-presidents. The Europeans are nostalgic for one and remain deeply uncomfortable with the other.

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US will not open door to Saudi Arabia building nuclear weapons, deputy energy secretary says

  • The Trump administration wants to sell its nuclear energy technology to cash-rich Saudi Arabia.
  • To prevent nuclear arms development, the U.S. wants to place tight controls on how the technology can be used.
  • Saudi Arabia has put the U.S. on a shortlist with China, Russia and others to bid for nuclear power projects in the country.
Published 1 Hour Ago CNBC.com
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A representative of the United States government said Saturday that it would not help Saudi Arabia develop nuclear technology without guarantees that it would only be used for civilian purposes.

 

Speaking to CNBC's Hadley Gamble at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, said such an agreement was imperative to any nuclear deal with Riyadh.

 
 
 
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"We won't allow them to bypass 123 if they want to have civilian nuclear power that includes U.S. nuclear technologies."

The senior energy official said as countries pursued more environmentally friendly and emissions-free technologies, nuclear had to be a part of the conversation. And while countries should pursue nuclear energy technologies they must do so under a U.S. regime that prevents the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

"As you know this technology has a dual use and in the wrong hands it becomes a dangerous, dangerous world," said Brouillette.

The Saudis have so far refused to rule out their right to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, pointing to neighboring Iran's ability to do so under the 2015 nuclear agreement that world powers struck with Tehran.

In an interview in March on CBS's "60 Minutes" Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the country wasn't interested in developing weapons but would develop nuclear capability should Iran ever develop a working nuclear bomb.

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With the US-Russian Nuclear Treaty in Tatters, Is 'Doomsday' Ticking Closer?

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | February 11, 2019 04:57pm ET
 
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With the US-Russian Nuclear Treaty in Tatters, Is 'Doomsday' Ticking Closer?
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"Mike," the U.S.'s first successful hydrogen bomb test, was detonated on Enewetak Atoll in late 1952, as part of Operation Ivy.
Credit: Courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration/Nevada Site Office

When President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a long-standing nuclear weapons treaty with Russia on Feb. 1, his actions set the stage for what many fear could be a new arms race between the global superpowers.

Trump's decision was announced less than two weeks after scientists and policy experts with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) presented the 2019 position for the Doomsday Clock — a hypothetical clock whose time symbolizes how close the Earth is to destruction from nuclear war and other global threats.

 

On Jan. 24, BAS representatives declared that the clock's hands would continue to stand at 2 minutes to midnight, the closest to absolute annihilation since the peak of the Cold War in 1953. Their dire warning came on the heels of the Trump administration's statement of intent in October to withdraw the U.S. from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which was established in 1987 to restrict nuclear arsenals, according to a BAS statement.

Now that the U.S. has officially abandoned one of the last remaining nuclear treaties with Russia, does that nudge the clock closer to doomsday? [The Top 10 Ways to Destroy Planet Earth]

Dismantling the deal

When President Ronald Reagan and Russian President Mikhail S. Gorbachev signed the INF treaty, they agreed that their respective countries would cease building nuclear weapons and would destroy all ground-based cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges of between 311 and 3,420 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometers) within three years of the treaty signing.

 

However, the Trump administration elected to withdraw from the agreement in October of last year, accusing Russia of violating the terms of the INF in 2014. At that time, Russia had deployed a land-based cruise missile known as the SSC-8, which was capable of reaching countries in Europe, The New York Times reported.

That October 2018 decision was alarming enough to prompt BAS officials to keep the hands on the Doomsday Clock at 2 minutes to midnight, Rachel Bronson, BAS president and CEO, told Live Science.

Prior to the Trump announcement, many experts felt that the risk of nuclear war had decreased somewhat since 2017, when tensions between the U.S. and North Korea were surging. But the call to dissolve the INF treaty was one of several factors that informed BAS's assessment — that the threat of imminent nuclear war isn't going away anytime soon.

"The arms-control architecture that had been built up over the last three-plus decades is just being dismantled," Bronson said.

And even if Russia did break the INF treaty in 2014, the withdrawal of the U.S. from the treaty quashed any chance of holding Russia accountable and rallying global condemnation of the country's actions, Bronson said.

"There's value in having the treaty, because then the U.S. can hammer at Russia for being in violation of it," Bronson said. "Without it, there's nothing keeping them bound even to a facade of trying to reduce reliance to nuclear weapons." [Apocalypse Now: The Gear You Need to Survive Doomsday]

Eve of destruction

On Feb. 2, Russia announced that it, too, would abandon the INF treaty, Time reported. This raises questions about the uncertain future of another U.S.-Russia agreement, the 1991 START treaty to limit nuclear weapons, which is set to expire in 2020, according to The Washington Post.

What happens next? The world certainly seems to be in a less stable place than it was a year ago, with Russia and the U.S. walking away from their former commitments to limit nuclear weapons and directing resources into new weapons development. In addition, the Trump administration has shown little interest in pursuing new agreements or rekindling negotiations, Bronson said.

It's still too early to say for sure if the collapse of the INF treaty will inevitably send the hands of the Doomsday Clock swinging closer to midnight than ever before. The clock was created in 1947 specifically in response to the development of nuclear weapons, which introduced threats to the planet that were unprecedented in the history of warfare, Alan Robock, associate editor of the journal Reviews of Geophysics and a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told Live Science in an email.

Even localized nuclear weapons can take their toll on more than the immediate vicinity by triggering "nuclear winter" — generating dense smoke clouds that cool the planet and prevent crops from growing, causing widespread famine, he added. [The Top 10 Largest Explosions Ever]

But the clock — as close as it now stands to a potential Armageddon — should also serve as a reminder that there is still time to reverse this new and dangerous course, Bronson said.

"What the Doomsday Clock does is it allows all of us to jump into this conversation that can often seem so remote and so distant," she said.

"These are complicated issues. It can often feel like it's beyond our ability to engage in the subject of arms control as well as the technical aspects of it. The Doomsday Clock allows a broader conversation — and these issues are too important to just leave to the experts," Bronson said.

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House launches probe of US nuclear plan in Saudi Arabia

A Democrat-led House panel has launched an inquiry over concerns about the White House plan to build nuclear reactors across the kingdom.

Whistleblowers told the panel it could destabilise the Middle East by boosting nuclear weapon proliferation.

Firms linked to the president have reportedly pushed for these transfers.

The House of Representatives' Oversight Committee report notes that an inquiry into the matter is "particularly critical because the Administration's efforts to transfer sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing".

 

President Donald Trump met nuclear power developers at the White House on 12 February to discuss building plants in Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia.

And Mr Trump's son-in-law, White House adviser Jared Kushner, will be touring the Middle East this month to discuss the economics of the Trump administration's peace plan.

Saudi Arabia has said it wants nuclear power in order to diversify its energy sources and help address growing energy needs.

But concerns around rival Iran developing nuclear technology are also at play, according to US media.

Previous negotiations for US nuclear technology ended after Saudi Arabia refused to agree to safeguards against using the tech for weaponry, but the Trump administration may not see these safeguards as mandatory, ProPublica reported.

Critics say giving Saudi Arabia access to US nuclear technology would spark a dangerous arms race in the volatile region.

White House Advisor Jared Kushner, watches alongside a member of the Saudi Delegation during a meeting between President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, D.C.Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Adviser Jared Kushner watches alongside a member of the Saudi Delegation during a meeting between President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

What does the report say?

The House report is based on whistleblower accounts and documents showing communications between Trump administration officials and nuclear power companies.

It states that "within the US, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia".

These commercial entities could "reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia".

Mr Trump is reportedly "directly engaged in the effort".

The White House has yet to comment on the report.

The report includes a timeline of events and names other administration officials who have been involved with the matter, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Mr Kushner, Mr Trump's inaugural committee chairman Tom Barrack and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Flynn was found guilty of lying about Russian contacts by special counsel Robert Mueller as a part of the inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The commercial entities implicated in the report are:

  • IP3 International, a private company led by ex-military officers and security officials that organised a group of US companies to build "dozens of nuclear power plants" in Saudi Arabia
  • ACU Strategic Partners, a nuclear power consultancy led by British-American Alex Copson
  • Colony NorthStar, Mr Barrack's real estate investment firm
  • Flynn Intel Group, a consultancy and lobby set up by Michael Flynn
Then White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S. on February 13, 2017Image copyright Reuters Image caption Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was deeply involved with the nuclear plans, the report says

The report states that Flynn had decided to develop IP3's nuclear initiative, the Middle East Marshall Plan, during his transition, and while he was still serving as an adviser for the company.

In January 2017, National Security Council staff began to raise concerns that these plans were inappropriate and possibly illegal, and that Flynn had a potentially criminal conflict of interest.

Following Flynn's dismissal, however, IP3 continued to push for the Middle East Plans to be presented to Mr Trump.

According to the report, one senior official said the proposal was "a scheme for these generals to make some money".

And whistleblowers described the White House working environment as "marked by chaos, dysfunction and backbiting".

What next?

The report says an investigation will determine whether the administration has been acting "in the national security interests of the United States or, rather, [to] serve those who stand to gain financially" from this policy change.

These apparent conflicts of interest among White House advisers may breach federal law, and the report notes that there is bi-partisan concern regarding Saudi Arabia's access to nuclear technology.

The oversight committee is seeking interviews with the companies, "key personnel" who promoted the plan to the White House, as well as the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defence, State, Treasury, the White House and the CIA.

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Russian TV lists U.S. military facilities Moscow would target in event of nuclear strike

Russian state television has listed U.S. military facilities that Moscow would target in the event of a nuclear strike, and said a hypersonic missile Russia is developing would be able to hit them in less than five minutes.

Sites include the Pentagon, Camp David, other military bases

Thomson Reuters · Posted: Feb 25, 2019 7:52 AM ET | Last Updated: a minute ago
 
usa-nuclear-russia-armsrace.jpg
Both Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump have dialed up their rhetoric on nuclear arms in the past year, with Russia testing new weapons and the U.S. pulling out of a decades-old disarmament treaty. (Marcos Brindicci/Reuters)

Russian state television has listed U.S. military facilities that Moscow would target in the event of a nuclear strike, and said a hypersonic missile Russia is developing would be able to hit them in less than five minutes.

The targets included the Pentagon and the presidential retreat in Camp David, Md.

The report, unusual even by the sometimes bellicose standards of Russian state TV, was broadcast Sunday evening, days after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was militarily ready for a "Cuban Missile"-style crisis if the United States wanted one.

With tensions rising over Russian fears the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe as a Cold War-era arms-control treaty unravels, Putin has said Russia would be forced to respond by placing hypersonic nuclear missiles on submarines near U.S. waters.

The United States says it has no immediate plans to deploy such missiles in Europe and has dismissed Putin's warnings as disingenuous propaganda. It does not currently have ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles that it could place in Europe.

However, its decision to quit the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over an alleged Russian violation, something Moscow denies, has freed it to start developing and deploying such missiles.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged the United States and Russia on Monday to preserve the treaty and extend a separate agreement limiting the size of nuclear arsenals, the New START Treaty, before it expires in 2021.

"We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War," Guterres said. "I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved."

Putin has said Russia does not want a new arms race, but has also dialed up his military rhetoric.

Some analysts have seen his approach as a tactic to try to re-engage the United States in talks about the strategic balance between the two powers, something Moscow has long pushed for, with mixed results.

'Our response will be instant'

In the Sunday evening broadcast, Dmitry Kiselyov, presenter of Russia's main weekly TV news show Vesti Nedeli, showed a map of the United States and identified several targets he said Moscow would want to hit in the event of a nuclear war.

The targets, which Kiselyov described as U.S. presidential or military command centres, also included:

  • Fort Ritchie, a military training center in Maryland closed in 1998,
  • McClellan, a U.S. Air Force base in California closed in 2001.
  • Jim Creek, a naval communications base in Washington state.

Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, said the "Tsirkon" hypersonic missile that Russia is developing could hit the targets in less than five minutes if launched from Russian submarines.

Hypersonic flight is generally taken to mean travelling through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound.

"For now, we're not threatening anyone, but if such a deployment takes place, our response will be instant," he said.

Kiselyov is one of the main conduits of state television's strongly anti-American tone, once saying Moscow could turn the United States into radioactive ash.

Asked to comment on Kiselyov's report, the Kremlin said on Monday it did not interfere in state TV's editorial policy.

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3 hours ago, Malcolm said:

Sites include the Pentagon, Camp David, other military bases

notice it doesn't say WHITE HOUSE

 

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Russia halts participation in nuclear arms treaty, stoking fears Cold War-era crisis

President Vladimir Putin has suspended Russia's participation in a key nuclear arms treaty, in response to Washington's decision to withdraw.

Putin has withdrawn from his country's obligations, citing U.S. 'violations'

The Associated Press · Posted: Mar 04, 2019 2:46 PM ET | Last Updated: 35 minutes ago
 
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia will abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, following in the footsteps of the United States. (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik via Associated Press)

President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia's participation in a key nuclear arms treaty Monday, in response to Washington's decision to withdraw.

In a decree, Putin suspended Russia's obligations under the terms of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty and said it will continue to do so "until the U.S. ends its violations of the treaty or until it terminates."

Putin's order came as Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the head of the Russian military's General Staff, met in Vienna with U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for talks on strategic stability. The INF treaty was one of the issues discussed in what the Russia's Defence Ministry described as "constructive" talks. 

The U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the INF a month ago, setting the stage for it to terminate in six months unless Moscow returns to compliance. Russia has denied any breaches, and accused the U.S. of violating the pact. 

The U.S. has accused Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.

'Very important part' of arms control

The move also reflected President Donald Trump's administration's view that the treaty was an obstacle to efforts needed to counter intermediate-range missiles deployed by China, which isn't part of the treaty.

Russia has charged that the U.S. has breached the pact by deploying missile defence facilities in eastern Europe that could fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors — a claim rejected by the U.S.

The collapse of the INF Treaty has stoked fears of a replay of a Cold War-era Europe missile crisis, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent during the 1980s.

Such weapons take shorter time to reach their targets compared to intercontinental ballistic missiles, and their deployment was seen as particularly destabilizing, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

Putin has warned the U.S. against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying that Russia will retaliate by fielding new fast weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets.

At the United Nations, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that Secretary General Antonio Guterres holds a strong hope that Moscow and Washington could resolve their differences over the treaty in the coming months.

"The INF is a very important part of the international arms control architecture," Dujarric said. 

"It has contributed tangibly to the maintenance of peace and stability, notably in Europe."

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