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By Karen L. Garst | 27 November 2015
Faithless Feminist

1. To make sense of their world

Humans are meaning seeking beings. They want answers to questions: why did the sky erupt in fire? Why did the sun go dark? Why did my newborn daughter die? And the list goes on. For many of these occurrences, early humans felt pure terror.

Even when we know what causes an earthquake today, it still causes fear and alarm for those affected. So how do we make sense of these events? Early humans created an explanation by positing the notion of some kind of a supernatural entity that was angry at them. Many of the early deities, not surprisingly, were sky gods—they lived “up there” and rained down fire and calamities on the humans living below.

To appease these deities—to make them less angry—people developed practices such as animal and human sacrifice as well as other rituals. As Robert Wright explains, humans tried “to raise the ratio of good to bad.”[1] As our knowledge of our world grew, primarily through science, we learned that events such as eclipses are predictable and that the universe is immeasurably vast. As this happened, the sky god moved from the physical sphere to a more spiritual one. Unfortunately, some religions today have mired themselves so deeply in their stories, that they have become oblivious to new discoveries in science, with some believing that the earth was created in 4004 BCE because of the calculations of the 17th century Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland), James Ussher.

39% of Americans recently polled believe that the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago.

2. To provide for a sense of belonging

Humans are not the only species on this planet that operate within social groups. They are also not the only ones that show empathy. Barbara King writes about the youngest son of Flo, an ape, who was unable to cope with his mother’s death. He stopped eating and died 3 1/2 weeks after his mother. The roots of our dependence on others go deep.

Most scholars believe the word religion comes from the Latin word religare, which means to bind fast. While the word bind has both positive and negative connotations, it indicates something that holds people together. Modern religion has a myriad of activities that provide cohesion for a group: stories that trace the history of a culture, rituals such as communion, music in many forms, and ceremonies that cover virtually every aspect of life from birth to death. The negative aspects of the word to bind also come into play with the practices of some religions, such as disfellowship in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon), which banishes members from their families and friends when they leave the church.

3. To seek help in their endeavors

Imagine a Paleolithic cave. It is a refuge from a harsh environment. Evidence of fires near the entrance show where the people lived, ate, and gave birth. Female figurines, often with pregnant bellies, are mostly found in this area. In the back of the cave, one finds the wall paintings of animals, such as those at Lascaux in France. Some of these paintings show evidence of being painted over multiple times. This is the space for the hunters and the shaman. What can they do to assure success in the hunt? Does the shaman lead them in incantations? Does he perform another type of ritual? Shamans, as studied in existing cultures, are the first religious “experts.” It is likely they existed in the Paleolithic era as well. As Robert Wright explains, shamans are a crucial first step in the emergence of organized religion. They move the group from a “fluid amalgam of beliefs about a fluid amalgam of spirits and what religion came to be: a distinct body of belief and practice, kept in shape by an authoritarian institution.

The shamans gave the hunters hope that they would be successful. Given the fact that even today we only notice when a good result comes from religious efforts such as prayer (and forget all those times when it does not), it is not surprising that the hunters became reliant on the shamans.

4. To unify diverse people

It is believed that hunter-gatherer groups were more or less egalitarian. As small groups, they were fairly homogenous. When our hunter-gatherer ancestors developed agriculture, they became more sedentary. Instead of wandering small bands, these tribes coalesced into larger entities. Undoubtedly, there was great diversity among these tribes who may have had little contact with others. Religion, with all that comes with it, can unify a group. As an example, as people came to the Nile, they brought their individual tribal gods with them in the form of a mascot or tribal fetish.

As the country unified these diverse groups, a more cohesive theology developed to worship Ra, the sun god, who also became the symbolic father of the Pharaoh.Unity also makes it easier to defend one’s ground, which became a necessity once agriculture developed. It is always easier to fight “the other” when your leader is telling you that they don’t believe in your god. We see this today as ISIS attracts people from diverse nations to fight all who do not believe as they do. In some ways, nothing has changed.

5. To instill order

Settling in villages requires some type of order. The larger the community, the greater the need for a set of codes or laws to not only guide behavior, but to provide punishment for those who refuse to obey. Religion helped provide that. The very first laws were discovered in Elba (modern-day Syria) and date from 2400 BCE.More well-known is Hammurabi’s (1792-50 BCE) code, carved on a stone tablet (and now in the Louvre in Paris), whose purpose is stated clearly from the beginning—“Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind …”The Ten Commandments, which is found in two versions in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy and formed the basis of Jewish law, came much later around 1000 BCE. In Judaism, it was the Levites who served as priests in the temple. As priests, they served to enforce the rules and norms of the state. Temples were indeed the first statehouses. All of these examples, of course, predate any notion of separation of church and state.

6. To create a compassionate practice

Neanderthal, a precursor to modern humans, lived from 400,000 to about 40,000 years ago.[10] A skeleton, referred to as Shanidar I, shows an individual that had clearly been disabled long before his death.[11] Others must have cared for him in order for him to survive. This is probably the first evidence of a compassionate practice in a social group. Later on, virtually all civilizations adopted some form of the Golden Rule including most religions. Native American Spiritually says it this way: “All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One.”Jainism states: “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.”

The Yoruba, an ethnic people in Nigeria, have one of my favorite renditions: “One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.” If we are going to live together, we need to be mindful of how we treat each other. Unfortunately, our history shows that this does not always apply to those outside our tribe, our ethnic group, or our nation. In fact, religion has been used to engage in wars, subordinate women, condone slavery, and justify genocide in spite of the lofty precepts of the Golden Rule.

7. To create stories that tell the history of a culture and its people

The Egyptian Pyramid Texts are the first recorded stories that can be called the basis of a religion. They date from the third millennium BCE, contain a creation myth and introduce one of their gods, Osiris. Another early text from the second millennium BCE that many believe influenced the biblical writers is the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish. It describes the victory of god Marduk over the goddess Tiamat. While scholars disagree on the date of its origin, it predates the Bible. The Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible is an amazing creation in and of itself. Written, edited, and compiled over a several hundred-year span, it contains not only a creation story, the description of a god, but the history of a people. It is truly remarkable that more than 2,500 years later, some Jews still follow the dictates of Leviticus including dietary restrictions. One would think that the similar elements in these stories would lead to the classification of mythology for all of them. However, when Edith Hamilton’s book on mythology was taught in my high school class, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were not included. I find it interesting that religious people so easily dismiss the beliefs of others as myths, but refuse to examine their own stories in that same light.

8. To provide hope for a life after this one

Neanderthal graves show the earliest evidence of intentionality.Shells are placed in the eye sockets, red ocher is used to paint the bones, and objects undoubtedly belonging to the deceased are placed in the grave. Becoming aware of one’s own morality was undoubtedly frightening. In the harshness of early humans’ lives, the lure of an afterlife must have been overwhelming. Many religions posit some type of afterlife. Egyptians mummified their dead and filled the tombs of the rich with grave goods because they believed that the physical body would be needed in the afterlife. Later on, religious views of the afterlife took on a more spiritual nature. Even later still, the notion of hell came into play. Both of these concepts allowed religious institutions to control their followers. But ask yourself, how did that work out for the Egyptians? We now dissect their mummies. Do you really need the promise of an afterlife and the threat of hell to live a good life on Earth? Why is it that the least religious countries such as Norway and Sweden have the most generous social programs while the Christian Republican candidates for president want to cut funding for Planned Parenthood that provides needed health services for poor women?

9. To explain evil

Human beings have always done evil things. From the earliest skeletons ever discovered, there are examples of man-made injuries. Today, one only has to listen to the first five minutes of a newscast to hear the latest murder, rape, or other criminal act. While the Old Testament talks about Satan, he is an adversary directed by god. It is only in the New Testament and later Christian writings that Satan is developed into the personification of a supernatural evil being who tempts man. The presence of an evil entity in a book that talks about an all powerful god is a bit hard to fathom. Why didn’t god just do away with Satan? If he is omniscient and all powerful, certainly that would have been a choice. Christian apologists like to use the notion of free will to explain the presence of evil. However there is no free will involved in being infected with the plague or in a newborn baby that dies shortly after it is born.

10. To feel good

Valerie Tarico writes that “Worship practices, music and religious architecture have been optimized over time to evoke right brain sensations of transcendence and euphoria.Standing in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, I can attest to those sensations: the beauty of the Rose Window with all of its shimmering colors as the light filters through and the vibrations from the massive pipe organ pumping out an old hymn. Imagine what it felt to the hungry poor masses as they entered this place of worship in the 14th century shortly after it was completed. I will wager that virtually everyone raised in a faith can attest to Tarico’s explanation. For my part, I can still sing from memory the Christian hymns I learned as a child. When my brother was still alive, he, my sister, and I would break out into the hymn “God’s Word is Our Great Heritage” which the youth choir sang as it marched triumphantly down the center aisle of Trinity Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.

From Neanderthal to the present day, we have tried to explain why we are here on this earth and what is our purpose. It is not surprising that religion helped us cope. But it is time to examine whether we would be better off letting go of this mythology and focusing on the grave problems we and our planet face. We can’t afford to brush off climate change with “God has a plan” or excuse tragedies with “There must be a purpose” or “They are in a better place, in heaven.” These words will just not move us forward to make the changes we need to make to improve the lives of those who suffer and to leave this planet in a better place for our children and grandchildren.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Karen Garst holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. She has worked as a field representative for the Oregon Federation of Teachers and has served as executive director of the Oregon State Bar. She is compiling a book of essays by women atheists. She blogs at faithlessfeminist.com.


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China’s Aid to Africa: Monster or Messiah? is an Article authored by Ms Yun Sun of the Brookings Institution. The Article is Certified by Public Opinions International  as a 2018 Global Challenge Opinions basing on its detailed facts.

The Author is Ms.Yun Sun who a nonresident fellow in the Africa Growth Initiative, focusing on China’s relations with Africa and U.S.-China cooperation on the continent at the Brookings Institution
Disseminated Worldwide by: Public Opinions International,Web:www.pubopinions.org,Kampala Uganda

 In recent years, China’s economic presence in Africa has led to a heated debate, some of it well-informed and some of it not, about the nature of Chinese involvement and its implications for the continent.  

The debate is partially motivated by the rapid growth of China’s economic presence in Africa: for example, Chinese investment in Africa grew from USD 210 million in 2000 to 3.17 billion in 2011. Aid is an important policy instrument for China among its various engagements with Africa, and indeed Africa has been a top recipient of Chinese aid:  by the end of 2009 it had received 45.7 percent of the RMB 256.29 billion cumulative foreign aid of China. This aid to Africa has raised many questions, such as its composition, its goal and nature.

What constitutes China’s aid?

Officially, China provides eight types of foreign aid: complete projects, goods and materials, technical cooperation, human resource development cooperation, medical assistance, emergency humanitarian aid, volunteer programs, and debt relief. China’s aid to Africa covers a wide array of fields, such as agriculture, education, transportation, energy, communications, and health. According to Chinese scholars, since 1956, China has provided almost 900 aid projects to African countries, including assistance supporting textile factories, hydropower stations, stadiums, hospitals, and schools.

Official development assistance is defined by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as concessional funding given to developing countries and to multilateral institutions primarily for the purpose of promoting welfare and economic development in the recipient country. 

China is not a member of OECD and does not follow its definition or practice on development aid. The bulk of Chinese financing in Africa falls under the category of development finance, but not aid. This fact is privately acknowledged by Chinese government analysts, although Chinese literature constantly blurs the distinction between the two categories.

The billions of dollars that China commits to Africa are repayable, long-term loans. From 2009 to 2012, China provided USD 10 billion in financing to Africa in the form of “concessional loans.” During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first overseas trip to Africa in March 2013, he doubled this commitment to USD 20 billion from 2013 to 2015. The head sovereign risk analyst of Export-Import Bank of China announced in November 2013 that by 2025, China will have provided Africa with USD 1 trillion in financing, including direct investment, soft loans and commercial loans.

China’s own policy actively contributes to the confusion between development finance and aid. The Chinese government encourages its agencies and commercial entities to “closely mix and combine foreign aid, direct investment, service contracts, labor cooperation, foreign trade and export.”The goal is to maximize feasibility and flexibility of Chinese projects to meet local realities in the recipient country, but it also makes it difficult to capture which portion of the financing is – or should be – categorized as aid. One rather convincing theory is that the Chinese government in effect pays for the difference between the interest rates of concessional loans provided to Africa and comparable commercial loans. Therefore, only the small difference in interest rates could qualify as Chinese aid.


Who does China’s aid serve?

Despite Chinese leaders’ claim that China’s assistance to Africa is totally selfless and altruistic, the reality is far more complex.China’s policy toward Africa is pragmatic, and aid has been a useful policy instrument since the early days of People’s Republic of China.

During the Cold War, foreign aid an important political tool that China used to gain Africa’s diplomatic recognition and to compete with the United States and the Soviet Union for Africa’s support. Between 1963 and 1964, Zhou Enlai visited 10 African countries and announced the well-known “Eight Principles of Foreign Economic and Technological Assistance.These aid principles were designed to compete simultaneously with the “imperialists” (the United States) and the “revisionists” (the Soviet Union) for Africa’s approval and support

These efforts were enhanced during the Cultural Revolution under the influence of a radical revolutionary ideology, motivating China to provide large amounts of foreign aid to Africa despite its own domestic economic difficulties.  One famous example was the Tanzania-Zambia Railway built between 1970 and 1975, for which China provided a zero-interest loan of RMB 980 million. By the mid-1980s, China’s generous assistance had opened the door to diplomatic recognition with 44 African countries. 

Since the beginning of China’s reform and opening up, especially after 2000, Africa has become an increasingly important economic partner for China. Africa enjoys rich natural resources and market potential, and urgently needs infrastructure and development finance to stimulate economic growth. Chinese development finance, combined with the aid, aims at not only benefiting the local recipient countries, but also China itself. For example, China’s “tied aid” for infrastructure usually favors Chinese companies (especially state-owned enterprises), while its loans are in many cases backed by African natural resources.

Much Chinese financing to Africa is associated with securing the continent’s natural resources. Using what is sometimes characterized as the “Angola Model,” Chinas frequently provides low-interest loans to nations who rely on commodities, such as oil or mineral resources, as collateral. In these cases, the recipient nations usually suffer from low credit ratings and have great difficulty obtaining funding from the international financial market; China makes financing relatively available—with certain conditions.

Though commodity-backed loans were not created by China – leading Western banks were making such loans to African countries, including Angola and Ghana, before China Eximbank and Angola completed their first oil-backed loan in March 2004 – but the Chinese built the model to scale and applied it using a systematic approach. In Angola in 2006, USD 4 billion in such loans probably helped Chinese oil companies win the exploitation rights to multiple oil blocks.


In 2010, Sinopec’s acquisition of a 50 percent stake in Block 18 coincided with the disbursement of the first tranche of Eximbank funding, and in 2005, Sinopec’s acquisition of rights to Block 3/80 coincided with the announcement of a new USD 2 billion loan from China Eximbank to the Angolan government. In 2008, the China Railway Group used the same model to secure the mining rights to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s copper and cobalt mines under the slogan “(Infrastructure) projects for resources.” According to Debra Brautigam, a top expert on China-Africa relations, between 2004 and 2011, China reached similar unprecedented deals with at least seven resource-rich African countries, with a total volume of nearly USD 14 billion.


In addition to securing Africa’s natural resources, China’s capital flows into Africa also create business opportunities for Chinese service contractors, such as construction companies. According to Chinese analysts, Africa is China’s second-largest supplier of service contracts, and “when we provide Africa assistance of RMB 1 billion, we will get service contracts worth USD 1 billion (RMB 6 billion) from Africa.” In exchange for most Chinese financial aid to Africa, Beijing requires that infrastructure construction and other contracts favor Chinese service providers: 70 percent of them go to “approved,” mostly state-owned, Chinese companies, and the rest are open to local firms, many of which are also joint ventures with Chinese groups. In this sense, China’s financing to Africa, including aid, creates business for Chinese companies and employment opportunities for Chinese laborers, a critical goal of Beijing’s Going Out strategy.


How to understand Chinese aid to Africa?


With a few exceptions, there is a strong tendency among observers to assert moral judgments in the assessment of Chinese aid and development finance to Africa: China’s activities are either “evil” because they represent China’s selfish quest for natural resources and damage Africa’s fragile efforts to improve governance and build a sustainable future; or they are “virtuous” because they contribute to a foundation for long-term economic development, through infrastructure projects and revenue creation.

This polarization reveals the two sides of the same coin. On the positive side, China’s aid and development financing fills a void left by the West and promotes the development of African countries. Many Chinese projects require large investment and long pay-back terms that traditional donors are reluctant to provide.  On the other hand, however, these short-term benefits should not form a cover-up for the potential long-term negative consequences associated with neglecting issues of governance, fairness and sustainability. For example, when the “tied aid” is linked to the profitability of Chinese companies, it becomes questionable whether China would prioritize Africa’s interests or its own.

There is also an ongoing debate inside China about the goal and management of Chinese aid to Africa. For the foreign policy bureaucrats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foreign aid is essentially a political instrument for China to strengthen bilateral ties and facilitate the development of African countries. In their view, political considerations should be the most important criteria in aid decision-making. Economic benefits associated with aid projects, such as profitability, resource extraction, or the acquisition service contracts for Chinese vendors, should only be secondary.

However, trade promoters such as the Ministry of Commerce have rather opposite perspective. In their view, foreign aid serves China’s overall national priority, which by definition is economic growth. Therefore, all aspects of aid decisions should reflect broad economic considerations. Under this logic, the inclination is to allocate the aid budget to countries that offer China the greatest number of commercial opportunities and benefits. Since China’s top economic interest is Africa’s natural resources, aid decisions are inevitably skewed toward resource-rich countries while others receive less favorable consideration

This practice is problematic in that many of the resource-rich African countries with which China works also suffer from serious political problems, such as authoritarianism, poor governance, and corruption. When the Ministry of Commerce pursues economic gains and associates aid projects with resource extraction, it uses aid packages to promote business relations. This directly contributes to the negative perception that China is pouring aid, funding, and infrastructure projects to prop up corrupt governments in exchange for natural resources. As many Chinese analysts observe, the Foreign Ministry in recent years has been fighting fiercely for the authority to manage China’s foreign aid projects, which are currently under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce.

The intention of China’s aid to Africa is benign but not altruistic. China does not seek to use aid to influence the domestic politics of African countries or dictate policies. Instead, it truly hopes to help Africa achieve better development while avoiding meddling with the internal affairs of African countries through conditional aid. But on the other hand, China is not helping Africa in exchange for nothing. Chinese projects create access to Africa’s natural resources and local markets, business opportunities for Chinese companies and employment for Chinese labors. When Chinese officials emphasize that China also provides aid to countries that are not rich in natural resources to defuse international criticisms, they often forget to mention that China may have its eyes on other things which these countries can deliver, such as their support of Beijing’s “one China” policy, of China’s agenda at multilateral forums, and of China as a “responsible stakeholder.”  In this sense, China’s comprehensive, multi-dimensional agenda of its aid to Africa defies any simplistic categorization.

The Author is Ms.Yun Sun who a nonresident fellow in the Africa Growth Initiative, focusing on China’s relations with Africa and U.S.-China cooperation on the continent at the Brookings Institution


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By Anthony H. Cordesman | Centre for Strategic and International Studies |Washington DC USA|
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"Weapons of Mass Destruction" versus "Weapons of Mass Effectiveness"

No one can discount the threat of nuclear war, even when the threat is still materializing and remains far lower than some media reports would indicate. At the same time, it makes little sense to define the nuclear threat simply in terms of the range of ballistic missiles and the reliability of their reentry vehicles without considering all of the factors that shape the real-world effectiveness of such weapons, and why and how they might actually be used. Worse, it makes even less sense to focus on nuclear exchanges without regard to the broader strategic context in which such exchanges might take place.

Jumping the Nuclear "Gun"

First, there is a very real difference between having a potential or token nuclear-armed missile threat and having a real one. Simply demonstrating a large booster is very different from having a nuclear-armed missile that can actually be used in war. A fully functional missile requires a re-entry vehicle with a warhead that minimizes weight but must handle the movement of the missile in the field, the vibration of the boost phase, and the heat and shock of reentry. Hard decisions have to be taken about arming the warhead, which is most reliable in the prelaunch phase, but can be a nightmare that strikes on your own soil if the missile malfunctions.

Getting a predictable yield and set of effects requires a great deal of simulation at a minimum, and probably the test and recovery of simulated nuclear warhead designs to show the actual effect of firing a missile with such warheads, and the impact of launch and recovery. Plus, it requires telemetry tests of warhead detonation in other missiles to confirm the ability to control the height of burst—which is critical in determining the real-world effect of a nuclear warhead in terms of blast, radiation, thermal, and fall out.

Missile design has advanced a great deal since the first nuclear-armed missiles, but reliability is still a critical issue. A failed launch or flight by a nuclear-armed missile raises major problems, even if the warhead does not detonate. This is particularly true when a nation has only limited nuclear forces. In such cases, the nation has to make hard decisions about how many nuclear missiles to launch against a given target, whether to launch them in sequence or at the same time, and what happens if the missiles malfunction at the desired point of detonation (or hit and explode in very different locations from the ones they were aimed at).

There are a wide range of things that can go wrong that a few "white suit" firing tests from a test range won't reveal. Missile transportation, aging, and storage effects can all alter missile behavior. Problems that arise in programming the missile launch, and in setting up its Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL), seem less likely to be severe, but can occur. Real world missile accuracy requires extensive tests—not simply a few demonstrations. Missile component failure is a constant problem.

Guidance system failure may be less likely, but can occur. More importantly, the theoretical accuracy of the guidance platform is usually measured in terms of Circular Error of Probability (CEP)—a measure that only tries to predict where the 50% of the most accurate missiles go relative to their intended target—if all the measurements are perfect down to the meter, and, if the complex linkages between the guidance platform and the features of the missile that control its flight can function perfectly to the point of impact.

In the real world, there are many other things that can go wrong that determine the "error budget" of missile behavior. They can all be dealt by major and/or high technology powers, like the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and France, and Israel, if they carry out the necessary realistic test launches. They are much more serious challenges to powers like North Korea, Iran, India, and Pakistan.

The cost of failure is also far greater for such powers. Firing conventionally-armed missiles that don't work according to plan can easily be compensated for by firing more missiles. In fact, this is a critical aspect of modern warfare, even with the most accurate and reliable systems. Failures and accidents do happen all the time, but they generally don't matter relative to the number of successes.

A single nuclear-armed failure can be critical, particularly if the nuclear missile force involved is vulnerable, small, and sufficiently inaccurate and unreliable to force launches against area-sized target like cities. Moreover, some methods of compensating, like targeting multiple or sequential missiles, seem likely to trigger far more massive retaliation if all of the launches succeed since they tend to instantly eliminate calculations that the smaller launch power may show restraint.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: "The Threat of Committing Suicide is Not an Adequate Deterrent to Being Murdered"

Second, Iran has no near-term capability to arm its missiles with nuclear warheads. At least for now, its missile threats are evolving in very different ways. As for North Korea, it may be able to gain a great deal from creating a real-world nuclear-armed missile threat, and steadily upgrading it over time, in terms of political pressure, "wars of intimation," and deterring a major conventional attack on North Korea. It is far from clear, however, how quickly North Korea can create a serious real-world nuclear-armed missile threat against given countries.

Moreover, both North Korea and Iran will face a grim reality if they ever go beyond threats to actually using nuclear weapons. Even when a relatively small power does possess actual nuclear-armed missiles, it faces a clear strategic dilemma. To paraphrase a comment Henry Kissinger made in a very different context, the threat of committing suicide is not an adequate deterrent to being murdered. Every major missile launch confronts the target country with having to choose between launching its own nuclear and other strike forces and riding out an attack to see if the incoming missiles are nuclear-armed.

At a minimum, even a limited actual local strike—say on South Korea -- seems likely to trigger a massive U.S. strike on North Korea using conventionally-armed weapons, and even nuclear weapons if the target is South Korean cities. Any ICBM or SLBM strike on the U.S. could trigger a major nuclear strike on North Korea even if the North Korean missile is not nuclear-armed.

For example, the U.S. might well feel it could not wait to see if a missile it destroyed with missile defenses was actually nuclear-armed, and a demonstrative strike with a conventionally-armed ICBM would probably push U.S. restrain too far. The advantages of a U.S. nuclear first strike would have limits that will diminish as nations like North Korea acquire larger numbers of mobile, concealable, and shelter missiles, will still probably more than justify a damage-limiting precision strike for at least the next decade, regardless of how North Korean forces develop and evolve.

In each case, the threat to "destroy" North Korea—and any future nuclear-armed Iran—could become an instant warfighting reality. Valuable as nuclear-armed missiles might be to a state like Iran and North Korea in shaping the limits of conventional forces used against it, or the limited probability of any kind of U.S./Japanese/South Korean nuclear first strike without clear provocation, the "rules" change radically once there are even strong indicators of a North Korean nuclear attack.

U.S. preemption does not make sense in the face of massive nuclear retaliation by a major power. It becomes virtually mandatory if it means major limits to damage by the potential attacker—particularly for a U.S. that must not only consider the damage, but the message to other small nuclear powers if it showed restraint in the face of a credible set of indicators that a power like North Korea or Iran was preparing a nuclear attack.

Furthermore, the problem of showing restraint—rather than preempting -- becomes steadily more complicated if the U.S. makes guarantees of extended deterrence to its Arab partners and Israel, Japan, or South Korea, if one considers Israel's nuclear forces, or if key Arab states, Japan, or South Korea proliferate.

And, it becomes more complicated if powers like North Korea and Iran try to deter preemption or retaliation by steadily building up their nuclear forces and reducing their vulnerability. The mix of incentives and disincentive on each side grows and becomes more unpredictable with each step, and inevitably broadens to include other power like Russia and China. The "game" involving the actual use of nuclear weapons becomes one where there is no way to win, an unknown number of players, and no rules. The only certainty is that it has the potential to become steadily more dangerous and destructive.

Conventional Missiles: Linking "Weapons of Mass Destruction" to "Weapons of Mass Effectiveness

Finally, nuclear options are only part of the missile story and the changing balance of warfighting capabilities. The U.S.-led coalition against Iraq demonstrated in 1991 that precision conventionally-armed cruise missiles and air strikes could inflict critical (and repairable) damage on Iraq's power grid and key elements of its transportation and military communications system. It was a carefully limited and experimental effort that took weeks to implement and whose major goal was to destroy and paralyze Iraq's conventional forces and suppress or eliminate its air power and air defenses. The use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets was equally experimental, as was the ability to manage the air offensive and its targeting in real time.

The Gulf War happened nearly twenty years ago—more than a "lifetime" in terms of generations of military technology. As the fighting against Iraq in 2003 showed, powers like the U.S. had already adopted radically more effective methods. Since then, the fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria has shown further major progress.

Air-launched precision guided conventional weapons, cruise missiles, and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) now offer near-surgical ways to destroy any high value civilian or military target—including electric power, key utility nodes, water/desalination/dams, pipelines, refineries, sewage, tunnels, bridges, and virtually all high-value economic/infrastructure facilities.

Depending on the willingness to escalate, and the target choice, relatively small numbers of conventionally-armed precision guided weapons can become "weapons of mass effectiveness." They not only can have immense value against military targets, they can paralyze key aspects of a target nation's war fighting infrastructure, and its civilian life, and economy.




They can also be used in ways where limited strikes—on targets like refineries or tankers in the Gulf—have a massive global economic impact and can use escalation from "repairable" to "permanent" damage, and from targeting physical to human effects as both tactical and strategic leverage. (The use of high capacity UCAVs also opens up the possibility of cheap and extremely effective delivery of another form of weapon of mass destruction: biological weapons).

This is not a theoretical possibility. The practical problem for the U.S. and its allies and strategic partners is that powers like Iran and North Korea are actively seeking to compensate by developing their own precision conventional strike capabilities. They already have some capability to use UCAVs. Iran has some precision-guided shorter range ballistic and cruise missiles, and North Korea seems to have some such systems as well -- although experts disagree over many aspects of their design and performance, technical origins, and even their names.

It is also clear that both Iran and North Korea are actively seeking to develop and deploy far more accurate longer-range and higher payload systems, and give them the same kind of accuracy that the U.S. can achieve with its best conventionally-armed cruise missiles.

It does seem likely that both North Korea and Iran are half-a-decade away from creating major inventories of such precision guided, conventionally-armed systems. It also seems likely, however, that they will make major increases in accuracy of some systems over the next few years and that at least North Korea will develop the capability to use such systems as "weapons of mass effectiveness" at roughly the same rate that they deploy real-world nuclear-armed missiles.

A number of key Israeli experts like Uzi Rubin have already warned that Iran is acquiring these capabilities, and transferring far more accurate systems to the Hezbollah and possibly the Houthi and other forces in Yemen. Iran also seems to be making and deploying improvements in longer-range anti-ship missiles that will radically change its ability to strike large ships like tankers and "close the Gulf" with limited vulnerability.

Another key uncertainty in dealing with such "weapons of mass effectiveness" is the loss of the edge the U.S. has enjoyed in the use of air and cruise missile power since1991 due to the Russian transfer of the S-400 air and missile defense system to bases in Syria and sale of the S-300 level of air and missile defense technology to North Korea. They could be further degraded by the sale of more advanced air and missile defense systems and air defense fighters.

Since 1991, the U.S. has fought wars where it had or could establish air superiority and use its precision strike capabilities at will with little or no fear of a serious response. Much of this advantage will be lost if threats like Iran, Syria, and North Korea can make major improvement in their air and missile defenses, if they get access to Russia or China's most advanced fighters, and if transfers take place of advanced cruise missiles or their technology. These same advances in the threat can lead the U.S. and its partners into having to make far more expensive investments in ballistic missile defenses, cruise missile defenses, surface-to air missiles, and air-to-air combat systems.

At the same time, powers like Iran and North Korea can potentially exploit the development of nuclear-armed missiles and precision-strike conventional missiles to use their nuclear forces—or any nuclear forces they create in the future—to deter or limit the level of U.S., Arab, Israeli, Japanese, and South Korean willingness to use their conventional precision strike capabilities.

It is one thing to use nuclear weapons. It is another to hold them in reserve and threaten to use them to deter both conventional strikes and the threat of escalation to nuclear weapons. There is no either/or to "weapons of mass destruction" versus "weapons of mass effectiveness." Iran and North Korea clearly understand this, and they are scarcely likely to remain alone in acting accordingly.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday will repeat his promises to “rebuild our military” and defeat terrorism around the globe, with specific reprimands directed at North Korea for aggressive military moves in recent months.

Senior White House officials said the speech, which has a theme of “building a safe, strong and proud America,” will also include a message of “returning to clarity about our friends and adversaries” as the United States looks to bolster foreign alliances to counter national security threats.

While much of the speech will focus on economic issues — officials said job creation, trade imbalances and celebrating the recent Congress-passed tax reform measures will be major topics — the inclusion of defense policy follows tradition of including military priorities in the address to the nation.

The presidential guest list for the event has not yet been announced, but Trump is expected to include several military members among the invitees in an effort to underscore his defense remarks.

White House officials would not comment on rumors that the president is readying a new executive order to reverse former President Barack Obama’s directives to close the military prison at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Nor would they say what other countries may be called out for hostile actions on the world stage, although they did confirm North Korea won’t be the only one.

In last year’s speech to Congress (which was not officially a State of the Union address), Trump also emphasized his plans to boost military spending and readiness. Among his promises was a pledge that “our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve.”

Since then, negotiations on the defense budget — and the rest of the federal spending plan — have been stalled on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers face a Feb. 8 deadline to pass either a full-year spending bill or a fifth short-term funding package to prevent another government shutdown.

Last year’s speech also included Trump highlighting Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy SEAL Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed during an anti-terrorism mission in Yemen. The moment drew both praise from supporters for highlighting the grieving family and criticism for obscuring problems with that assault.

White House officials said the president will also emphasize themes of bipartisanship and opportunity in the speech, but also serve as “a reminder of all of his accomplishments” in his first year in office.


Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies.

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By Anthony H. Cordesman | Centre for Strategic and International Studies |Washington DC USA|December 7, 2017
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President Trump's announcement on December 6th that, "It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," and that he is "directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," will hurt both Israeli and U.S. strategic interests. Two critical problems: It damages Israel and U.S. interests by seriously irritating the Arab world, and it gives Iran, the Hezbollah, and Russia the opportunity to exploit this anger and the divisions.

There was no earthly reason to provoke the Arab world. All President Trump had to do to help Israel was to ignore his campaign rhetoric and Israel's political hardliners, and do nothing. Every year since 1967, Israel has slowly created new facts on the ground in Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Jerusalem has become steadily more Jewish, and the Jewish areas in greater Jerusalem have expanded eastward to the point where they have virtually reached the edge of the slopes down to the Jordon River Valley.

No one in the Arab world wants this to happen. There have been countless objections from the Palestinians and some clashes in Jerusalem—as well as among outside supporters of the peace process and a two-state solution. Like the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, this gradual build-up of facts on the ground has steadily reduced the real-world chances of going back to the 1967 cease fire lines, and the prospects for a viable two-state peace settlement.

At the same time, the deep divisions within the Arab world, the lack of any Palestinian unity and effective leadership, and the fears key states like Saudi Arabia have of Iran, have led Arab objections to become steadily quieter and ineffective, and they have made outside peace efforts largely moot in limiting the expansion of Israeli areas of control.

Doing nothing would have allowed this real-world expansion of facts on the ground to continue indefinitely. Greater Jerusalem would have continued to grow with minimal and largely pro forma Arab objections. The Israeli Jewish population would have continued to increase, and the Palestinian population of Jerusalem would have continued to come under pressure.

Outside objections would have remained equally ineffective, and the threat of real peace negotiations that actually affect the facts on the ground would have been negligible. Jerusalem might have lacked the formal title of capital and the "thrill" of housing more embassies, but each passing month and year would have made Jerusalem more Israeli without creating any new political opposition or rise in the threat to Israel.

Doing nothing would also have avoided giving Iran, the Hezbollah, and potentially Russia and Syria the political ammunition to use against Israel, or against America's Arab strategic partners and the U.S. It would not have pleased the hard right in Israel, or given a semi-besieged Netanyahu political aid, but Israel's extremists are as much a threat to Israel’s core strategic interests as its most dedicated Arab enemies. Demanding the wrong things too loudly and too soon has never helped Israel, only hurt it.

In short, the end result of the President's announcement on Jerusalem is to undermine the security of Israel, create major problems for our Arab allies, and undermine America's image and position in the Middle East and North Africa. It has already provoked wide opposition, and new doubts of our leadership from our European allies, and may well be used in recruiting by Islamist terrorist and extremist groups

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