Friday, April 28, 2017

North Korea War Bluff, Or Just Bluster?

No US War on North Korea: An optimistic perspective on a scary crisis

by Dave Lindorff  - This Can't Be Happening


April 28, 2017  

North Korea is threatening to destroy the US with its thus far largely undeliverable and sometimes unexplodable nuclear weapons, while the US, after an embarrassing navigational "mishap" that saw it steaming in the opposite direction, has successfully dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group to a position reportedly within "strike range" of North Korea (but actually still in the South China Sea near the Philippines, some 1200 miles distant from North Korea), and now President Trump is threatening a possible attack on that country if it won't halt its nuclear weapons program.

(Pictured: The USS Carl Vinson, somewhere in the Pacific...or the Indian Ocean)

So is the Korean War, which never really ended, going to be reactivated, as scare stories are now warning?

While I often find myself the pessimist in these kinds of crises, given the penchant for US presidents to turn to war as a default foreign policy option, I'm guessing that won't happen in this case, and for the same reason I that do not think we will see US troops confronting the determined ethnic Russian secessionists in eastern Ukraine.

It's clear that for years now, the imperialist policy of the US government, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has been to create chaos in regions of the world from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America, the better to control uppity countries like Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil, whose leaders try to buck or stand up to US dictates. But it's one thing to overthrow a government and decapitate its leadership in a place like Libya or Syria, where no powerful state is located nearby to defend that country. It's altogether another to take on a country that lies right on the border of another nuclear power, as does Ukraine and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

There was nobody to come to Col. Ghaddafy's aid when US-led NATO forces attacked his government, backing rebels seeking his overthrow, and left the country a chaotic mess, which it has remained now for six years. And until Russia stepped in, the same was true of US backing for Islamic rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Basher Al-Assad. Ukraine was something of an exception, with the US backing a coup in 2014 that ousted the country's elected pro-Russian president, installing in his place a pro-US regime, despite its bordering Russia. My sense is that US warmongers still thought Russia was a backwards mess in 2014, incapable of standing up and with a disfunctional military. When Russia acted, though, and made it clear, with the annexation of Crimea and with material support of ethnic Russians in breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk, that it would brook no departure of Ukraine into NATO's fold, the US backed off, despite plenty of bluster from the Obama White House and its laughably inept Secretary of State John Kerry.

I'm predicting that the same thing will happen in the case of North Korea. The Trump administration may threaten to attack, but the bottom line is that a US attack on North Korea, or even a so-called surgical strike on its nuclear weapons development facility or a special forces attack on its leader, Kim Jong-un, would be viewed by China's government as a mortal threat to their country's national security, just as Russia views any effort to turn Ukraine into a US puppet and NATO member as a mortal threat to itself.

Actually, there are a number of good reasons to doubt that the US will attack North Korea, nuke test or no nuke test. The first is that China, which is reportedly already moving crack Peoples Liberation Army troops and equipment up to the North Korean border, will not allow the US to conquer and occupy North Korea, the first being that such a move would put US military forces right up on China's border. The second is that US policymakers, even those neo-conservatives who might like the idea of challenging China in principle, know they really have no idea how the North Korean people would react to a US occupation, following an air attack. It's not common knowledge in the US, but the reality is that during the Korean War, US bombers dropped, over a period of a couple of years, a tonnage of bombs on North Korea equal to all the bombs dropped in the Pacific Theater during WWII, killing a third of the country's population. Virtually every North Korean has at least one family member who was killed by American bombers during the brutal onslaught, which was so intense that towards the end US pilots were reportedly dumping their bombs in the ocean before returning to base so they could land safely, because they could find no more targets to hit in the North.

Given that history, and the generations of anti-US propaganda since then in the country, no one could say for certain that American soldiers fighting their way into North Korea today would be viewed purely, or even by some people, as "liberators." (In that sense, the experience in both Afghanistan and Iraq is probably still in the minds of the actual Pentagon brass, if not in the minds of the armchair generals at the White House.)

Even South Korea, effectively a US colony since the end of World War II, has to be taken into consideration. Most South Koreans are aghast that the US would consider attacking the north. For one thing, the capital of South Korea, Seoul, is so close to North Korea that it is in range of thousands of large cannons, many of them well hidden and protected in tunnels in the north, which could rain down powerful shells on the city as devastating as any aerial bombardment campaign, and the people of Seoul still recall how their city was destroyed during the back-and-forth battling of the Korean War in the 1950s. For another, many South Koreans have relatives in the north, and don't want to see them killed or injured in another round or war on the peninsula. Finally, South Korea itself has a long history of popular resistance to both the country's corrupt and often autocratic compradore government and to the US military's occupation of the country and its dominance over South Korea's sown military. How such a populace would react to a new war on the Korean people of the north would be hard to predict in advance.

Any way you look at it, a US-launched war against North Korea would be a very messy and probably long-running affair whose consequences could quickly include an armed conflict between US and Chinese troops, as happened the first time around with dreadful consequences, and that was before China had nuclear weapons and had sfar fewer ICBMs capable of putting them down on US cities from New York to Los Angeles.

So for all these reasons, I'm betting that what we're hearing and seeing from the Trump White House is only bluster. Perhaps President Trump will find some face-saving way to cut a deal with China in which he'll target some missile launching site in North Korea, which would be warned in advance of an attack so most people could clear out of the area, and then it would be hit by a barrage of Tomahawk missiles launched by the Carl Vinson battle group, should his naval "armada" ever reach its destination in the Yellow Sea or Sea of Japan. Those missiles that manage to reach their targets would wreak some photogenic damage he could distribute to the domestic media and his remaining supporters, much as he did with his pre-approved airport raid in Syria.

I hope I'm right on this. If I'm wrong, it won't much matter, though.

Monbiot on Guard for Dubious Gas Attack Claims

A disavowal of George Monbiot’s witch-hunt 

by Jonathan Cook


28 April 2017
 
George Monbiot is again on one of his intermittent witch-hunts against “the left” – on this occasion, against anyone questioning whether the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Idlib earlier this month.

In a post on his website, called simply “Disavowal”, he dismisses those who have raised doubts about the official western narrative – such as MIT weapons expert Ted Postol; former UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter; and former US military and government insider Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state – as a “few contrarians”.

I remember a time when Monbiot was a contrarian himself, on the environment and climate change. Then, he would have proudly embraced such a denunciation as proof of his independence and critical thinking. Now it is a weapon to use against his critics.

On foreign policy matters, Monbiot has regularly shown poor judgment. Since the attack on Iraq, he has posed not as a cheerleader for intervention but as a weary onlooker, reluctantly conceding that whatever US, British and other western intelligence agencies say – and the largely uncritical reports of these statements by liberal media like his own newspaper the Guardian – should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The fact that these official assurances have so often turned to mush on closer inspection, whether in Iraq, Libya or now Syria, never strengthens his resolve to maintain more critical distance next time. Nor does it seem to raise any concern that, by failing to adopt a posture of rigorous scepticism, he is inadvertently conspiring in the promotion by the west and its allies, like Saudi Arabia, of their right to meddle in and attack official “enemy” states.

Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.

Noam Chomsky made this point in a different context in the book Understanding Power:

So when American dissidents criticize the atrocities of some enemy state like Cuba or Vietnam or something, it’s no secret what the effects of that criticism are going to be: it’s not going to have any effect whatsoever on the Cuban regime, for example, but it certainly will help the torturers in Washington and Miami to keep inflicting their campaign of suffering on the Cuban population [i.e. through the US-led embargo]. Well, that is something I do not think a moral person would want to contribute to.

It perhaps goes without saying that, as Monbiot has become less and less of a “contrarian”, he has turned his fire on those who insist on the right to be one. A few years ago that finally included Chomsky too, as I have previously discussed here.

One of the problems with Monbiot’s latest “disavowal” – presumably from the leftists he castigates in his short piece – is that it offers no justification for what it claims to be justifying.

In less than 48 hours after the attack in Idlib, Monbiot was tweeting that the evidence appeared to show Assad was responsible, while suggesting that anyone who doubted the Syrian regime’s role was likely driven by nefarious motives.

A day later, he was “99%” sure Assad’s government was responsible. Trump’s illegal attacks on Syria were only “symbolic” – a symbolic war crime, presumably – and would allow Assad to “carry on as before”. Did he mean Trump needed to launch more than a symbolic attack? That he needed to ratchet up the violence to stop Assad “carrying on as before”? It is this kind of irresponsibly ambiguous language – from a journalist skilled in the use of words – that can serve only to aid an agenda Monbiot says he opposes.

Then weapons expert Ted Postol muddied the waters. He offered a critique of the only real evidence for the attack that is publicly available – Youtube videos, photos and a White House report.

Neither I nor Monbiot are chemical weapons or missile experts, so we have little to contribute to the technical arguments. But we can maintain a critical distance while others do, and weigh the evidence they produce.

But that is not what Monbiot did. He was sure of Assad’s responsibility for the attack before there was any evidence that hadn’t been supplied by western intelligence agencies and western news outlets – the latter depending on local sources from an area controlled by violent, ruthless jihadist groups. There is a good reason why independent experts, western journalists and neutral parties are not operating in these areas, after all.

Now Monbiot wants to point to recent critiques of Postol’s analysis as evidence for why he was right to blame Assad at the outset; and why, further, those who have refused to jump to conclusions, as he did, are exposed as Assad apologists.

Even if we assume the criticisms of Postol’s work are based in evidence and factually right (and neither he nor I are in a position to know that), he did not wait for Postol’s analysis, or for the subsequent critiques of Postol’s work, to reach his own conclusions. In short, Monbiot’s mind was made up from the beginning. That – and only that – is what he is being reprehended for by the vast majority of his critics .

But there is an even more important issue here, at least for anyone who is really interested in getting to the truth of what happened, and wants to stop official narratives being abused to promote greater western military intervention (and suffering) in Syria.

We need more of an engaged debate about evidence, not less of it. Postol, Blix and Ritter may all be wrong. But they should have a fair hearing and their arguments should be fully engaged with in the mainstream – especially, in supposedly liberal media outlets like the Guardian. Anyone who wants to understand what happened in Idlib must also want a vigorous and open debate that most members of the public will have access to.

So how much coverage have these counter-narratives received in the corporate media? Precisely zero coverage in the UK media, as Media Lens have pointed out. The evidence marshalled by the doubters has been shunted – as ever – into the corners of the internet, which is exactly where US, British and French officials want it.

Is Monbiot protesting the lack of engagement with these counter-narratives and the evidence the experts – and they are experts, whether he likes it or not – have proffered? Is he demanding that his paper, the Guardian, give a hearing to Postol, Blix and Ritter? No, he most definitely isn’t. In fact, he has been doing the precise opposite. He has discredited the doubters, and even those who simply want the debate to take place, as Assad apologists.

This is the behaviour of a propagandist, not a free thinker. I disavow too.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Weapons Claims a New Spin on Old "Axis of Evil" Narrative

New Spin on North Korea/Syria "Axis of Evil" Points to US War

by Finian Cunningham - RT


April 27, 2017

US media reports this week blamed North Korea for having a dastardly role in an alleged chemical weapons massacre in Syria. As if the two countries could not be demonized enough.

The latest spin of the “axis of evil” suggests Washington is hell-bent on war.

Demonize, dehumanize, destroy. That’s the logic being throttled by the Trump administration toward both North Korea and Syria.

This week war hawk US Senator Lyndsey Graham after a dinner with President Trump referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a “nutjob,” while Trump earlier labeled Syrian leader Bashar Assad an “animal.”

Now the two “evil dictators” are bonded in US media reports for complicity in the alleged chemical weapons attack earlier this month in Syria’s Idlib Province, where it is claimed Assad’s armed forces dropped toxic munitions on civilians, killing up to 80.

The supplier of the alleged chemical weapons in Syria is the “Kim Jong-un regime” in North Korea, according to US reports.

USA Today claimed:

“The horrors of the civil war in Syria have proved a blessing for North Korea. The regime of Kim Jong-un has made a killing from selling arms and ammunition to the regime of fellow dictator, Bashar Assad.” 

It goes on to cite claims that a “key supplier” of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is the northeast Asian nation.

Another publication, Defense One, headlined: “Syria’s war has been a goldmine for North Korea.”

Both outlets rely heavily on one source, Professor Bruce Bechtol, from Angelo State University, Texas, who is described as a “North Korea expert.”

Bechtol is quoted as saying:

“I would be stunned, I would be surprised if the nerve agent used by the Assad regime on April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun [Idlib Province] was not supplied by North Korea.”

In other words, this so-called “expert” doesn’t really know. Professor Bechtol is making a conjecture. Reference to his past research on the subject of North Korea/Syria military links, in 2015, make sweeping assertions about how the two nations have collaborated on developing chemical weapons.

Tellingly, the US “academic” makes a prominent citation of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in his assessment of North Korea and Syria’s military connections.

Last week, Fox News accused the countries of having a “long history” of sharing chemical weapons technology, without providing any corroborating details.

Meanwhile, a search in the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute – a recognized authority on global weapons trade – finds there is scant transfer of military technology, including chemicals, between North Korea and Syria.

In any case, claims chemical weapons were deployed by the Syrian government also ignore earlier reports by United Nations agencies that all such munitions had been completely destroyed under a Russian-US brokered decommissioning deal in 2013.

Media speculation Korean leader Kim Jong-un had some role in facilitating the death of civilians in Syria – due to alleged supply of lethal toxins appear to be orchestrated with the aim of demonizing. All the better, from the US propaganda point of view, because it brings him into the same target scope as Syria’s Assad, whom Washington has been trying to oust for the past six years in a proxy regime-change war.

The game of “evil dictator association” is a reboot of the “axis of evil” narrative first announced by former US President G.W. Bush in 2002. In the wake of the 9/11 terror incidents, the Bush administration fingered six states as state terror-sponsors and pursuing weapons of mass destruction. The alleged “axis of evil” unveiled by Bush comprised: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Cuba.

Of course, there were good grounds to suspect the narrative as a propaganda device, dutifully assisted by Western news media, as a way to target “rogue regimes” for American military attack. Iraq and Libya have been “dealt with.” Evidently, North Korea and Syria (as well as Iran) are a “work in progress” for Washington.

The allegation of chemical weapons from North Korea to Syria is a transparent attempt at a frame-up.

For a start, the alleged incident on April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun has relied solely on dubious videos sourced from terrorist-affiliated militants and their media agents, known as the White Helmets.

Several respected weapons authorities, such as MIT Professor Theodore Postol, dispute the claims asserted by Western governments and the media that Sarin gas was used. These authorities have also voiced concern that the whole incident was a propaganda stunt or false flag instigated by Western-sponsored militants in order to discredit the Assad government and justify US military intervention.

Three days after the April 4 incident, amid much sensational Western media accusations against the Syrian government, US President Trump launched 59 cruise missiles on the country. It is a matter of doctrinal thought that Assad committed a war crime with chemical weapons. According to Washington and its allies, attacking Syria with missiles is not an act of aggression, it is an act of “righteous revenge.”

“Gas a baby, and you can expect action,”declared Trump’s White House spokesman Sean Spicer unburdened of any legal standard.

This is while the US, Britain, and France have blocked a formal request from Russia, Iran, and Syria for an impartial, on-site investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun incident. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Western powers showed they do not want to find out the truth of what really happened because their priority is pushing the agenda for regime change in Syria.
 
The alleged connection to North Korea makes the propaganda drive even more seductive. Not only is Syria demonized without any proof, but now North Korea can also be vilified for having a dastardly role in “gassing beautiful babies,” as Trump would have it.

The US targeting of North Korea with nuclear-capable submarines, warships, and intercontinental ballistic missiles has taken provocative threats against Pyongyang to a reckless level. Trump and his top officials have repeatedly warned recently that the US is ready to launch pre-emptive strikes on North Korea.

It is arguable that US conduct amounts to acts of aggression. North Korea’s nuclear and missile program may have breached international sanctions, but the actions of the US and its allies holding war exercises are insanely disproportionate. The world is being put on a hair trigger for war, at Washington’s initiative.

The Trump administration, given free rein by supine news media, is making the incendiary claim that “it fears time is running out” on stopping Kim Jong-un from obtaining a nuclear missile capable of hitting the US.

If the US launches a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, it will probably be devastating, as the Trump administration has warned. The extraordinary dropping of the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan earlier this month seems to have been a macabre rehearsal for what would otherwise be seen as a horrific attack on North Korea.

Smearing the North Korean leader with alleged atrocities by chemical weapons in Syria is another grim pointer that the US is preparing to commit a catastrophic crime. By a process of demonizing and dehumanizing, it is creating a license to destroy.

However, such demonic US behavior should actually turn world attention to who exactly is the real axis of evil and number-one threat to peace.

Hunger and the Prisoners of Palestine

Prisoners Show the Way

by Mazin Qumsiyeh - qumsiyeh.org


April 27, 2017

Today all of Palestine is on strike in solidarity with the fasting prisoners and tomorrow is a day of indignation, demonstrations, and confrontations with the occupiers.

Bethlehem is a ghost town and all shops and public transportation are closed and Israeli helicopters are in the skies.  

[Volunteers came to museum and we are taking a group on tour of the wall and impact of settlements on the environment because this is not work but resistance].

Tomorrow is a day of demonstrations and confrontations. In this message I just want to reflect on why this is very important.

Every day we encounter greedy people focused on their own needs and unhealthy desires. How many cheated us? How many come around us because they have some material interest?

How many corrupt politicians do we know? How many people we know turn out to be kinder and gentler and more self-sacrificing than we thought? How many turned out more mean, more selfish, more sadistic? Looking at the world in this fashion (some would claim it is seeing reality) can be truly dispiriting. It can remove any remaining humanity in many people. But then comes a prisoner hunger strike! It sounds small but it touches a cord in human beings bigger than any other and I will argue it is the way to reclaim our humanity.

Today, Palestinians and their friends around the world show solidarity with over 1800 Palestinian political prisoners who are on their 11th day of hunger strike. Salt and water is all they will take until their just and rightful demands are met (basic decent treatment in prison based on international law). It sounds simple but this is a profound even in Palestinian and human history. The price one pays for resistance is injury,
death or imprisonment. It is the antithesis of selfishness and greed.

800,000 Palestinians tasted life in prison and today almost 7000 are there in the colonial apartheid Israeli prisons. While everyone knows this, the hunger strike brought the prisoners' message home to all - rich and  poor, greedy and self-sacrificing, honest and liar. This message is nothing short of that we humans must reconnect to our humanity and that caring for others is the way to save humanity. In this 21st century with weapons of mass destruction and climate change, we cannot afford as a species to do otherwise. Prisoners show us the way like many decent human beings showed us the way before (think of Jesus and prophets and revolutionaries like Che Guevera).

But the alarm bells for us are now alarm bells for a dying species unless we act. It is more urgent than ever in our short history on earth. We really have a choice to make and it is both an individual and a collective choice. That choice is to either accept war and greed as "natural" and follow the other human lemmings over the cliff OR resist and give of ourselves as a way to save humanity. Mahatma Gandhi used hunger strike to refocus people away from greed and selfishness to caring for each other.

Hunger is painful and people will die sooner or later unless we all act. What is at stake is very high: our own self-respect (dignity) as human beings. But as the world changed, the danger is that we can also go extinct as a species unless we manage to collectively transcend a huge baggage of greed, colonialism, and capitalism that cannot be sustained in the 21st century. Palestinian prisoners by their silent deeds of self-sacrifice have shown us the way.

As did martyrs like Basil Al-Araj who simply noted that in his extremely short last words on paper: there is no more eloquent speech than the deed of the Martyr.

Kkalil Gibran wrote in "The Prophet" 1923:

“You give but little when you give of your possessions; it is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And what is fear of need but need itself.” 

The prisoners and the martyrs gave silently of themselves. For the rest of us, where we stand today and tomorrow will say a lot about who we are.

Here is a relevant article I wrote seven years ago "The Savior in Each of Us"
http://qumsiyeh.org/thesaviorineachofus/

Stay human

Mazin Qumsiyeh
A bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
Professor and (volunteer) Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability
Bethlehem University
Occupied Palestine
http://qumsiyeh.org
http://palestinenature.org
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Consortium News: Supporting the News We Need

Wrapping Up Spring Fund Drive

by Robert Parry - Consortium News


April 27, 2017




From Editor Robert Parry:

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The Prisoner's Tale: Talking with Patrick McGoohan

Numbered Man: An Analysis of the Prisoner

by Jay Dyer


July 5, 2015

1960s spy fiction is some of my favorite fiction.

Developing its own unique aesthetic, from Bond to The Saint to Harry Palmer, the vivid, flamboyant style of both the spies and their cinema incarnations created an iconic pop phenomena that survives still (as 007 is still going strong).

Everyone knows 007, but few are aware of the more philosophical, science fiction based British cult show, The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan.

McGoohan not only starred in the show, but is also the series’ co-creator, following his successful Danger Man series, and reportedly passed over the role of Bond in Dr. No and The Saint due to moral qualms with 007’s ethics (McGoohan was a professing Roman Catholic).

Regardless, The Prisoner remains one of the most fascinating presentations of the dark side of international espionage, combining the esoteric, philosophical, geopolitical and the fantastical, as well as functioning as a critique of the most foundational assumptions of modern, “progressive” man.

For this, it most certainly warrants an analysis.

[For complete article, please see source here.]







Modernity involves the belief that nature (including human nature) is infinitely malleable, open to the endless manipulation and “improvement” of science. In a 1977 interview with Canadian journalist Warner Troyer, McGoohan said,

“I think we’re progressing too fast. I think that we should pull back and consolidate the things that we’ve discovered.”

Pushing the Nuclear Weapons Envelope: Breakthroughs Endangering Our Existence

These Nuclear Breakthroughs Are Endangering the World

by Conn Hallinan - FPIF


April 26, 2017
 

How a growing technology gap between the U.S. and its nuclear- armed rivals could lead to the unraveling of arms control agreements — and even nuclear war. 

 

At a time of growing tensions between nuclear powers — Russia and NATO in Europe, and the U.S., North Korea, and China in Asia — Washington has quietly upgraded its nuclear weapons arsenal to create, according to three leading American scientists, “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.”

Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, Matthew McKinzie of the National Resources Defense Council, and physicist and ballistic missile expert Theodore Postol conclude that “Under the veil of an otherwise-legitimate warhead life-extension program,” the U.S. military has vastly expanded the “killing power” of its warheads such that it can “now destroy all of Russia’s ICBM silos.”

The upgrade — part of the Obama administration’s $1 trillion modernization of America’s nuclear forces — allows Washington to destroy Russia’s land-based nuclear weapons, while still retaining 80 percent of U.S. warheads in reserve. If Russia chose to retaliate, it would be reduced to ash.

A Failure of Imagination


Any discussion of nuclear war encounters several major problems.

First, it’s difficult to imagine or to grasp what it would mean in real life. We’ve only had one conflict involving nuclear weapons — the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 — and the memory of those events has faded over the years. In any case, the two bombs that flattened those Japanese cities bear little resemblance to the killing power of modern nuclear weapons.

The Hiroshima bomb exploded with a force of 15 kilotons, or kt. The Nagasaki bomb was slightly more powerful, at about 18 kt. Between them, they killed over 215,000 people. In contrast, the most common nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal today, the W76, has an explosive power of 100 kt. The next most common, the W88, packs a 475-kt punch.

Another problem is that most of the public thinks nuclear war is impossible because both sides would be destroyed. This is the idea behind the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, aptly named “MAD.”

But MAD is not a U.S. military doctrine. A “first strike” attack has always been central to U.S. military planning, until recently. However, there was no guarantee that such an attack would so cripple an opponent that it would be unable — or unwilling, given the consequences of total annihilation — to retaliate.

The strategy behind a first strike — sometimes called a “counter force” attack — isn’t to destroy an opponent’s population centers, but to eliminate the other sides’ nuclear weapons, or at least most of them. Anti-missile systems would then intercept a weakened retaliatory strike.

The technical breakthrough that suddenly makes this a possibility is something called the “super-fuze”, which allows for a much more precise ignition of a warhead. If the aim is to blow up a city, such precision is superfluous. But taking out a reinforced missile silo requires a warhead to exert a force of at least 10,000 pounds per square inch on the target.

Up until the 2009 modernization program, the only way to do that was to use the much more powerful — but limited in numbers — W88 warhead. Fitted with the super-fuze, however, the smaller W76 can now do the job, freeing the W88 for other targets.

Traditionally, land-based missiles are more accurate than sea-based missiles, but the former are more vulnerable to a first-strike than the latter, because submarines are good at hiding. The new super-fuze does not increase the accuracy of Trident II submarine missiles, but it makes up for that with the precision of where the weapon detonates. “In the case of the 100-kt Trident II warhead,” write the three scientists, “the super-fuze triples the killing power of the nuclear force it is applied to.”

Before the super-fuze was deployed, only 20 percent of U.S. subs had the ability to destroy re-enforced missile silos. Today, all have that capacity.

Trident II missiles typically carry from four to five warheads, but can expand that up to eight. While the missile is capable of hosting as many as 12 warheads, that configuration would violate current nuclear treaties. U.S. submarines currently deploy about 890 warheads, of which 506 are W76s and 384 are W88s.

The land-based ICBMs are Minuteman III, each armed with three warheads — 400 in total — ranging from 300 kt to 500 kt apiece. There are also air and sea-launched nuclear tipped missiles and bombs. The Tomahawk cruise missiles that recently struck Syria can be configured to carry a nuclear warhead.

The Technology Gap


The super-fuze also increases the possibility of an accidental nuclear conflict.

So far, the world has managed to avoid a nuclear war, although during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis it came distressingly close. There have also been several scary incidents when U.S. and Soviet forces went to full alert because of faulty radar images or a test tape that someone thought was real. While the military downplays these events, former Secretary of Defense William Perry argues that it is pure luck that we have avoided a nuclear exchange — and that the possibility of nuclear war is greater today than it was at the height of the Cold War.

In part, this is because of a technology gap between the U.S. and Russia.

In January 1995, Russian early warning radar on the Kola Peninsula picked up a rocket launch from a Norwegian island that looked as if it was targeting Russia. In fact, the rocket was headed toward the North Pole, but Russian radar tagged it as a Trident II missile coming in from the North Atlantic. The scenario was plausible. While some first strike attacks envision launching a massive number of missiles, others call for detonating a large warhead over a target at about 800 miles altitude. The massive pulse of electro-magnetic radiation that such an explosion generates would blind or cripple radar systems over a broad area. That would be followed with a first strike.

At the time, calmer heads prevailed and the Russians called off their alert, but for a few minutes the doomsday clock moved very close to midnight.

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the 1995 crisis suggests that Russia does not have “a reliable and working global space-based satellite early warning system.” Instead, Moscow has focused on building ground-based systems that give the Russians less warning time than satellite-based ones do. What that means is that while the U.S. would have about 30 minutes of warning time to investigate whether an attack was really taking place, the Russians would have 15 minutes or less.

That, according to the magazine, would likely mean that “Russian leadership would have little choice but to pre-delegate nuclear launch authority to lower levels of command,” hardly a situation that would be in the national security interests of either country.

Or, for that matter, the world.

A recent study found that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan using Hiroshima- sized weapons would generate a nuclear winter that would make it impossible to grow wheat in Russia and Canada and cut the Asian Monsoon’s rainfall by 10 percent. The result would be up to 100 million deaths by starvation. Imagine what the outcome would be if the weapons were the size used by Russia, China, or the U.S.

For the Russians, the upgrading of U.S. sea-based missiles with the super-fuze would be an ominous development. By “shifting the capacity to submarines that can move to missile launch positions much closer to their targets than land-based missiles,” the three scientists conclude, “the U.S. military has achieved a significantly greater capacity to conduct a surprise first strike against Russian ICBM silos.”

The U.S. Ohio class submarine is armed with 24 Trident II missiles, carrying as many as 192 warheads. The missiles can be launched in less than a minute.

The Russians and Chinese have missile-firing submarines as well, but not as many, and some are close to obsolete. The U.S. has also seeded the world’s oceans and seas with networks of sensors to keep track of those subs. In any case, would the Russians or Chinese retaliate if they knew that the U.S. still retained most of its nuclear strike force? Faced with a choice committing national suicide or holding their fire, they may well choose the former.

The other element in this modernization program that has Russia and China uneasy is the decision by the Obama administration to place anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia, and to deploy Aegis ship-based anti-missile systems off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. From Moscow’s perspective — and Beijing’s as well — those interceptors are there to absorb the few missiles that a first strike might miss.

In reality, anti-missile systems are pretty iffy. Once they migrate off the drawing boards, their lethal efficiency drops rather sharply. Indeed, most of them can’t hit the broad side of a barn. But that’s not a chance the Chinese and the Russians can afford to take.

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Forum in June 2016, Russian President Valdimir Putin charged that U.S. anti-missile systems in Poland and Romania were not aimed at Iran, but at Russia and China. “The Iranian threat does not exist, but missile defense systems continue to be positioned.” He added, “a missile defense system is one element of the whole system of offensive military potential.”

Unraveling Arms Accords


The danger here is that arms agreements will begin to unravel if countries decide that they are suddenly vulnerable. For the Russians and the Chinese, the easiest solution to the American breakthrough is to build a lot more missiles and warheads, and treaties be dammed.

The new Russian cruise missile may indeed strain the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but it is also a natural response to what are, from Moscow’s view, alarming technological advances by the U.S. Had the Obama administration reversed the 2002 decision by George W. Bush’s administration to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the new cruise might never have been deployed.

There are a number of immediate steps that the U.S. and the Russians could take to de-escalate the current tensions. First, taking nuclear weapons off their hair-trigger status would immediately reduce the possibility of accidental nuclear war. That could be followed by a pledge of “no first use” of nuclear weapons.

If this does not happen, it will almost certainly result in an accelerated nuclear arms race.

“I don’t know how this is all going to end,” Putin told the St. Petersburg delegates.

“What I do know is that we will need to defend ourselves.”

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at: dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com.


21st Century Plague: Electrosmog and Trump's Cuts

Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?

by Paul Mobbs - CounterPunch


April 27, 2017

Amidst concern over President Trump’s emasculation of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and cuts to the USA’s climate research, other ground-breaking areas of environmental research are being ignored.

For well-over a decade, at a cost of $25 million, a US National Toxicology Program study has been assessing the links between the use of mobile phones and rare, though increasing forms of cancer.

Unfortunately, before the results of this study are published, it may be ‘lost’ in the coming cuts.

Donald Trump’s policies are not ‘revolutionary’. They reflect a general opposition by right-wing lobby groups to environmental and social campaigns.

Just like the UK Coalition Government’s ‘Bonfire of the Quangos‘ in 2011/12, Trump’s cuts are aimed at removing any authoritative opposition to the liquidation of the Earth’s last natural resources – irrespective of the costs to human health and the environment.

Who will rid me of these turbulent scientists?


Given the USA’s lead in science and consumer technology, and the novel public health research such innovations generate, Trump’s new budget could have global implications for public health.

The Department for Health and Human Services (DHHS) funds the USA’s leading public health institutes. As part of Trump’s attempt to nullify environmental opposition in the USA, a long-standing objective of the political-right, the DHHS’ budget is being cut by 18%, or about $15.1 billion.

That will have wide-ranging effects on its dependent research agencies.

The National Toxicology Programme, maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one such example. At present cuts to the NIH, which has seen increases in its funding over recent years, are believed to be around 20% of its budget, roughly $5.8 billion.

Ultimately it is up to the US Congress to decide on the precise level of funding. That in turn depends upon the willingness of the Republican majority to follow Trump’s ‘skinny’ budget proposals.

Concerns about mobile phone radiation


Historically concerns about radio frequency (RF) radiation – and the official claims of safety for mobile phone use – were based on its ‘heating’ effect. Microwaves, like those used in kitchen ovens, heat-up materials as they are absorbed.

The levels of heating caused by mobile phones were so small they were considered insignificant for health. On that basis governments, mobile phone companies, and just about everyone with an interest in mobile communications, claimed that their use entailed no public health risk.

However, even before their use became widespread in the last 10 to 15 years, the ‘heating’ hypothesis was challenged by evidence of health impacts associated with heavy mobile use – including headaches, skin irritation, nausea, and cancer.

Concerns over the ‘non-thermal level’ of health impacts began to arise in the 1990s, but the result of initial scientific reviews was essentially, ‘we don’t know‘.

There was insufficient evidence to assess the risks to human health.

The need for long-term studies


In 1999, the US Food and Drug Administration nominated the effects of mobile phone radiation for research by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP). That was because while mobile phone use had become widespread, little was known the about human health impacts of low level RF radiation exposure.

NTP designed a long-term study where animals would be irradiated by different kinds of mobile phone radiation – to take account of the differing mobile technologies. This was done in a closely controlled environment, so that the effects of mobile radiation could be differentiated from other confounding factors – something that many other studies have failed to do.

The study began, and… nothing; which is the issue with long-term exposure studies – they take time to produce a result.

In the interim various scientists recommended ‘precaution’ in the use of mobile phones. Though governments and the telecommunications industry have ignored that advice.

Category 2B: ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’


Another official study, carried out by the World Health Organization’s Interphone Study Group, published its results in 2010.

Using epidemiological data they concluded there was ‘no increase in risk’ of cancer – although they accepted there may be a weak association with one specific type of cancer, glioma, amongst the heaviest mobile users.

In 2011, contrary to the mollifying statements from the industry, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that,

“the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B [possibly carcinogenic to humans] classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”

In response to the IARC statement, the European Environment Agency recommended, “taking a precautionary approach to policy making in this area.”

As yet that call has not been heeded by many EU governments and regulators. And certainly not in the UK, where wireless connectivity is seen as a driver of economic growth.

Wifi and the exponential growth of connectivity


From the 2000s, research widened beyond mobile phones to look at all forms of wireless communication – given that the use of WiFi had become widespread.

Around this time stories began to emerge about ‘electrosensitive’ people who were adversely affected by RF radiation. Sometimes mocking, these articles often claimed ‘no proof‘ – though symptoms were demonstrable, and research studies have shown that some people are able to sense RF radiation within the bounds of statistical certainty.

Again, as with early mobile phone studies, WiFi-related studies produced no certain outcomes for human health – due to the lack of controlled research.

As a result, and without requiring that a safety case be proven, governments and the industry have rolled-out the installation of WiFi across society.

The political bias against ‘precaution’


The difficulty is that studies which produced no clear-cut result tend, on the basis of the precautionary approach, to call for preventative action in advance of certain scientific evidence.

Precautionary action is mandated under United Nations agreements on sustainability, and under European law.

Unfortunately the ‘precautionary principle’ is one of the issues which is toxic to right-wing politicians (especially in the USA). They believe it harms economic growth as it seeks to restrict people’s rights to pollute or damage the environment.

The lack of precautionary action has meant that the use of all kinds of high-frequency communication systems has grown exponentially. Most notably, WiFi. Not only in the home, where we have a ‘choice’ of exposure, but also deliberately installed in public places – often with government support and financing.

Clearly on the ‘thermal’ effects issue, it is true that the effect is insignificant. But the possibility of ‘non-thermal’ mechanisms which are deleterious to human health cannot be excluded.

Given the consistent evidence of some kind of ‘non-thermal’ causal mechanism for health impacts, there is no proof that mobile phones or WiFi systems are safe.

2016: NTP’s results begin to trickle out


Well over a decade after it started the National Toxicology Program’s long-term study started to yield results. In May 2016 the NTP released a draft report on the study’s findings. A review in Science summed-up the results:

“Male rats exposed to cellphone radiation in a large US government study were more likely to develop rare brain and heart cancers, a preliminary analysis has found, adding weight to concerns the ubiquitous devices could pose a health risk to people.”

A more detailed review in Scientific American highlighted the finding of a correlation between exposure to RF radiation and increasing cancer rates in the exposed group of rats.

While accepting the results were not definitive, researchers commented that the use of so many animals over such a long period was significant, and raises serious question about the safety of mobile phones. At the same time skeptics, quite rightly, pointed out that the draft was an incomplete, un-reviewed digest of the findings of the research project.

One, as yet unpublished aspect of the final report will be the description of a mechanism by which ‘non-thermal’ effects might give rise to cancer. For example, by creating breaks in DNA, which, as discovered 20 years ago, can cause mutations which might give rise to cancer.

The NTP’s scientists are currently working toward producing a final report on the study. Last week NTP announced that a research paper would not be published in its own right. Instead a final report would be published in December 2017.

This is why the possible cuts to the NTP’s budget are problematic. They could be used as a pretext for preventing the final publication of the results.

Might there be industry pressure to kill the study?


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on their website which states: “Can using a cell phone cause cancer? There is no scientific evidence that provides a definite answer to that question.”

There is also a sidebar entitled: “Why has the information on this page been updated?”That sidebar is the result of a controversy stoked over changes to the original format of the page – which indicated that mobile phone users should take a more cautious approach to their use.

The events surrounding that are outlined in a New York Times article, based on emails released after a freedom of information request, which outlined the pressure applied to the CDC to change its public advice.

One of the groups leading the campaign against warnings on the use of mobile phones was Breitbart – the ‘alt-right’ news site, run at that time by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

However, there is hope that the results will emerge, somehow. When I put the possibility of the industry pressuring the US government to bury the NTP’s report to Dr. Louis Slesin, the editor of Microwave News, he commented:

“A possible indirect effect is that the Trump administration could hold up the release of the report as a favor to the telecom industry. If that were to happen, I would hope that the report might be leaked – as was the case with those preliminary results we published last May, which prompted the NTP to officially release them a few days later.”

Why the evidence demands precautionary action


Recently a key paper on the effects of mobile phones on cancer rates in Britain had to be corrected. It had used the wrong data. What the new data showed was an increasing incidence of glioma in the UK – one of the cancers highlighted in the NTP’s study, as well as the Interphone study which had dismissed a link to cancer.

Yet the official advice from the UK’s NHS is that “most current research suggests it’s unlikely that radio waves from mobile phones or base stations increase the risk of any health problems.”

There is insufficient research to demonstrate the health effects from mobile phones and, perhaps more significantly due to the longer-term exposure, from WiFi – though evidence of effects does exist.

Yet despite the calls for ‘precaution’ from scientists, year on year, the ‘flux’ of high frequency electromagnetic energy in the environment continues to grow stronger, as use of these systems grows exponentially.

The global mobile phone industry has revenues of around a trillion dollars. And in addition to workplace and home computers, WiFi enables the ‘Internet of Things’ – which is forecast to quadruple in size by 2020 to a market worth $4 billion.

If more definite evidence on the health impacts of mobile communications and WiFi arises over the next few years, will our politicians and regulators be able to stand-up to that kind of economic pressure? – as well as public pressure from addicted mobile users?.

There is a long-standing debate over ‘safety’ in our modern, technological world. In particular, the role of radiation to that overall level of safety. In part that’s because radiation is a ‘involuntary’ risk; by its nature, you have no choice to avoid its hazards if your environment is polluted by it.

The difficulty is that personal choice is removed when public spaces are being deliberately ‘wired’ for wireless communications. Most notably, WiFi in public buildings and on public transport. People may wish to limits their exposure, but society is not allowing that because of its incessant drive towards mobile communications.

As the social and economic pressure for wireless connectivity grows, how are we limit our exposure to RF radiation?

Paul Mobbs is an independent environmental researcher and freelance author. He is also the creator of the Free Range Activism Website, FRAW.
More articles by:Paul Mobbs

This article originally ran on The Ecologist. 

Following Trump: America's First Hip, Black, Liberal, (And Good-Lookin' Too!) Woman President

Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition

by Peter Lee - China Matters


April 27, 2017

How do you sell elite rule to a 99% electorate? Well, don’t run somebody like Hillary Clinton, a lackluster campaigner with more 1% baggage than the Louis Vuitton stock room.

There aren’t many politicians who can look you in the eye and say “I work for the bankers…but I care about you” and get away with it.

Obama could. Clinton couldn’t. Now that Obama’s termed out, the search is on for the telegenic candidate who checks the intersectional boxes but knows on what side the world’s bread is buttered.

My bets are on Kamala Harris as the intersectional box-checking, globalist friendly, appealing candidate now being groomed for a presidential run.

Sooner rather than later, I’d think.


Judging by Emmanuel Macron, a handsome youngster can be transformed into a president even with a slim resume. Best thing is to get ‘em out in front of the voters while they’re young and fresh, and before they’ve had to accumulate too much of a track record of 1% accommodation.

That’s the Obama lesson. He came from nowhere and became President. Hillary came from somewhere and went nowhere.

It’s an interesting data point in the evolution of American politics that the Democrats doing what the Republicans used to do: find a charismatic front person who is also a tabula rasa to generate electoral mass appeal for elitist policies.

The key task, and one I’m guessing Democratic strategists have devoted a lot of effort to cracking, is how to convert the perceptual framing from “99% v. 1%” to “degraded lumpen v. the quintessence of America”.

Democratic Party liberalism pretty relies on meritocratic technocratic model to make the elite rule pill easier to swallow: the best and the brightest are recognized by an enlightened electorate and handed the keys to the America-mobile.

The people who don’t vote for Team Demlib are *ahem* unenlightened: low information voters, bigots, oh, what’s a good word? How about…Deplorables!

So what should we call Demlibs? The wise? The The woke? How about…the Adorables?

This framing lets Demlibs dodge the slam that they are venal politicians feasting on the nutritious swill slopped in front of their snouts by globalist billionaires; or, for the Marxy-inclined critic, that they callow bourgeoisie sucking up to the capitalist class for profit and protection.

Sweeping issues of political interest or class interest under the rug does raise some awkward questions, though!

Dems are pretty much in the situation of saying, we’re out here absorbing billions in campaign funding and promoting globalist centrist polices because…

…because…

Um, because we care so much about humanity we can’t bear to do otherwise!

We’re not creatures of class, ambition, or interest!

That must be it! Noblesse oblige!

This is an indispensable piece of framing for a political movement that might otherwise be convincingly portrayed as tools of the 1%.

It’s an easier line to sell with a young, sexy, and savvy candidate.

Obama played that role quite well as president, but not, in my opinion, so well since then, with the whole fracasso of sabotaging the Trump presidency with the anti-Russia horcruxes and then signing a $60 million book deal and shouldering up to the public speaking trough with the Clintons with a $400,000 gig and for that matter helping out with “Hillary a la Francais” centrist Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign.

Takeaway: get the pretty people in front of the voters before they turn ugly.

The future belongs to the young!

 

America's Thousand Points of Might in Africa

America’s War-Fighting Footprint in Africa: Secret U.S. Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across That Continent

by Nick Turse - TomDispatch

 
April 27, 2017

General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy. 
 
“I would just say, they are on the ground. They are trying to influence the action,” commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa.
“We watch what they do with great concern.”

And Russians aren’t the only foreigners on Waldhauser’s mind. He’s also wary of a Chinese “military base” being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large U.S. facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti. “They’ve never had an overseas base, and we’ve never had a base of... a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be,” he said
 
“There are some very significant... operational security concerns.”

Tomgram: Nick Turse, The U.S. Military Moves Deeper into Africa

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: The next post will appear on Tuesday, May 2nd. Tom]

If you’re a reader of TomDispatch, then you know something of real importance about this country that most Americans don’t. As an imperial power, there’s never been anything like the United States when it comes to garrisoning this planet. By comparison, the Romans and imperial Chinese were pikers; the Soviet Union in its prime was the poorest of runners-up; even the British, at the moment when the sun theoretically never set on their empire, didn’t compare. The U.S. has hundreds of military bases ranging in size from small American towns to tiny outposts across the planet, and yet you could spend weeks, months, years paying careful attention to the media here and still have no idea that this was so. Though we garrison the globe in a historically unprecedented way, that fact is not part of any discussion or debate in this country; Congress doesn’t hold hearings on global basing policy; reporters aren’t sent out to cover the subject; and presidents never mention it in speeches to the nation. Clearly, nothing is to be made of it.

It’s true that, if you're watching the news carefully, you will find references to a small number of these bases. In the present Korean crisis, for instance, there has been at least passing mention of Washington’s bases in South Korea (and the danger that the American troops on them might face), though often deep in articles on the subject. If, to pick another example, you were to read about the political situation in Bahrain, you might similarly find mentions of the U.S. base in that small Gulf kingdom that houses the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Generally, though, despite the millions of Americans, military and civilian, who have cycled through American bases abroad in recent years, despite the vast network of them (the count is now approximately 800), and despite the fact that they undergird American military policy globally, they are, for all intents and purposes, a kind of black hole of non-news. Don't even think to ask just why the U.S. garrisons the planet in this fashion or what it might mean. It would be un-American of you to do so.

I must admit that, until I met Chalmers Johnson back at the turn of the century, I was a typical American on the subject. I never gave much thought to what he called our “empire of bases.” My own shock on grasping the nature of this country’s highly militarized presence across this planet led me to decide that, at least at TomDispatch, American basing policy would get some of the attention it obviously deserves. This initially happened thanks to Johnson himself; later to David Vine, author of a rare book, Base Nation, on the subject; and finally to this site’s own Nick Turse, who in recent years has been following the U.S. military’s global basing policy as it moved onto the rare continent that had largely lacked them: Africa. No longer. Today, he offers his latest update on the burgeoning set of bases and outposts that the U.S. military has been building or occupying and expanding there without notice, discussion, or debate, a network that will ensure we are plunged into the spreading terror wars on that continent for decades to come. Tom

 

America’s War-Fighting Footprint in Africa: Secret U.S. Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across That Continent

by Nick Turse

 
 
At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by the Washington Post last October in an article titled, “U.S. has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases to North Africa.” Five months later, the AFRICOM commander still sounded aggrieved. 
 
“The Washington Post story that said ‘flying from a secret base in Tunisia.’ It’s not a secret base and it’s not our base... We have no intention of establishing a base there.”

Waldhauser’s insistence that the U.S. had no base in Tunisia relied on a technicality, since that foreign airfield clearly functions as an American outpost. 
 
For years, AFRICOM has peddled the fiction that Djibouti is the site of its only “base” in Africa. “We continue to maintain one forward operating site on the continent, Camp Lemonnier,” reads the command’s 2017 posture statement. Spokespeople for the command regularly maintain that any other U.S. outposts are few and transitory -- “expeditionary” in military parlance.

While the U.S. maintains a vast empire of military installations around the world, with huge -- and hard to miss -- complexes throughout Europe and Asia, bases in Africa have been far better hidden. And if you listened only to AFRICOM officials, you might even assume that the U.S. military’s footprint in Africa will soon be eclipsed by that of the Chinese or the Russians.

Highly classified internal AFRICOM files offer a radically different picture. A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent. In official plans for operations in 2015 that were drafted and issued the year before, Africa Command lists 36 U.S. outposts scattered across 24 African countries. These include low-profile locations -- from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield -- that have never previously been mentioned in published reports. Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including “15 enduring locations.” 
 
The newly disclosed numbers and redacted documents contradict more than a decade’s worth of dissembling by U.S. Africa Command and shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East. 


A map of U.S. military bases -- forward operating sites, 
cooperative security locations, and contingency locations -- 
across the African continent in 2014 from declassified 
AFRICOM planning documents (Nick Turse/TomDispatch).

A Constellation of Bases


AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about the 46 bases, outposts, and staging areas currently dotting the continent. Nonetheless, the newly disclosed 2015 plans offer unique insights into the wide-ranging network of outposts, a constellation of bases that already provided the U.S. military with unprecedented continental reach.

Those documents divide U.S. bases into three categories: forward operating sites (FOSes), cooperative security locations (CSLs), and contingency locations (CLs). “In total, [the fiscal year 20]15 proposed posture will be 2 FOSes, 10 CSLs, and 22 CLs” state the documents. By spring 2015, the number of CSLs had already increased to 11, according to then-AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez, in order to allow U.S. crisis-response forces to reach potential hot spots in West Africa. An appendix to the plan, also obtained by TomDispatch, actually lists 23 CLs, not 22. Another appendix mentions one additional contingency location.

These outposts -- of which forward operating sites are the most permanent and contingency locations the least so -- form the backbone of U.S. military operations on the continent and have been expanding at a rapid rate, particularly since the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The plans also indicate that the U.S. military regularly juggles locations, shuttering sites and opening others, while upgrading contingency locations to cooperative security locations in response to changing conditions like, according to the documents, “increased threats emanating from the East, North-West, and Central regions” of the continent.

AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement notes, for example, a recent round of changes to the command’s inventory of posts. The document explains that the U.S. military “closed five contingency locations and designated seven new contingency locations on the continent due to shifting requirements and identified gaps in our ability to counter threats and support ongoing operations.” Today, according to AFRICOM spokesman Chuck Prichard, the total number of sites has jumped from the 36 cited in the 2015 plans to 46 -- a network now consisting of two forward operating sites, 13 cooperative security locations, and 31 contingency locations.

Location, Location, Location


AFRICOM’s sprawling network of bases is crucial to its continent-wide strategy of training the militaries of African proxies and allies and conducting a multi-front campaign aimed at combating a disparate and spreading collection of terror groups. The command’s major areas of effort involve: a shadow war against the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia (a long-term campaign, ratcheting up in the Trump era, with no end in sight); attempts to contain the endless fallout from the 2011 U.S. and allied military intervention that ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the neutralizing of “violent extremist organizations” across northwest Africa, the lands of the Sahel and Maghreb (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the degradation of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin nations of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad (a long-term effort -- to the tune of $156 million last year alone in support of regional proxies there -- with no end in sight); countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (a long-term effort with no end in sight), and winding down the wildly expensive effort to eliminate Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa (both live on, despite a long-term U.S. effort).

The U.S. military’s multiplying outposts are also likely to prove vital to the Trump administration’s expanding wars in the Middle East. African bases have long been essential, for instance, to Washington’s ongoing shadow war in Yemen, which has seen a significant increase in drone strikes under the Trump administration. They have also been integral to operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where a substantial (and deadly) uptick in U.S. airpower (and civilian casualties) has been evident in recent months.

In 2015, AFRICOM spokesman Anthony Falvo noted that the command’s “strategic posture and presence are premised on the concept of a tailored, flexible, light footprint that leverages and supports the posture and presence of partners and is supported by expeditionary infrastructure.” The declassified secret documents explicitly state that America’s network of African bases is neither insignificant nor provisional. “USAFRICOM’s posture requires a network of enduring and non-enduring locations across the continent,” say the 2015 plans. 
 
“A developed network of FOSes, CSLs, and non-enduring CLs in key countries... is necessary to support the command’s operations and engagements.”

According to the files, AFRICOM’s two forward operating sites are Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier and a base on the United Kingdom’s Ascension Island off the west coast of Africa. Described as “enduring locations” with a sustained troop presence and “U.S.-owned real property,” they serve as hubs for staging missions across the continent and for supplying the growing network of outposts there.

Lemonnier, the crown jewel of America’s African bases, has expanded from 88 acres to about 600 acres since 2002, and in those years, the number of personnel there has increased exponentially as well. “Camp Lemonnier serves as a hub for multiple operations and security cooperation activities,” reads AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement. 
 
“This base is essential to U.S. efforts in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.”
Indeed, the formerly secret documents note that the base supports “U.S operations in Somalia CT [counterterrorism], Yemen CT, Gulf of Aden (counter-piracy), and a wide range of Security Assistance activities and programs throughout the region.”

In 2015, when he announced the increase in cooperative security locations, then-AFRICOM chief David Rodriguez mentioned Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon as staging areas for the command’s rapid reaction forces. Last June, outgoing U.S. Army Africa commander Major General Darryl Williams drew attention to a CSL in Uganda and one being set up in Botswana, adding, 
 
“We have very austere, lean, lily pads, if you will, all over Africa now.”

CSL Entebbe in Uganda has, for example, long been an important air base for American forces in Africa, serving as a hub for surveillance aircraft. It also proved integral to Operation Oaken Steel, the July 2016 rapid deployment of troops to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, as that failed state (and failed U.S. nation-building effort) sank into yet more violence.

Libreville, Gabon, is listed in the documents as a “proposed CSL,” but was actually used in 2014 and 2015 as a key base for Operation Echo Casemate, the joint U.S.-French-African military response to unrest in the Central African Republic.

AFRICOM’s 2015 plan also lists cooperative security locations in Accra, Ghana; Gaborone, Botswana; Dakar, Senegal; Douala, Cameroon; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Mombasa, Kenya. While officially defined by the military as temporary locales capable of being scaled up for larger operations, any of these CSLs in Africa “may also function as a major logistics hub,” according to the documents.

Contingency Plans


The formerly secret AFRICOM files note that the command has designated five contingency locations as “semi-permanent,” 13 as “temporary,” and four as “initial.” These include a number of sites that have never previously been disclosed, including outposts in several countries that were actually at war when the documents were created. Listed among the CLs, for instance, is one in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, already in the midst of an ongoing civil war in 2014; one in Bangui, the capital of the periodically unstable Central African Republic; and another in Al-Wigh, a Saharan airfield in southern Libya located near that country’s borders with Niger, Chad, and Algeria.

Officially classified as “non-enduring” locations, CLs are nonetheless among the most integral sites for U.S. operations on the continent. Today, according to AFRICOM’s Prichard, the 31 contingency locations provide “access to support partners, counter threats, and protect U.S. interests in East, North, and West Africa.”

AFRICOM did not provide the specific locations of the current crop of CLs, stating only that they “strive to increase access in crucial areas.” The 2015 plans, however, provide ample detail on the areas that were most important to the command at that time. One such site is Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, also mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time.

Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti is also mentioned in AFRICOM’s 2015 plan. Once a spartan French Foreign Legion post, it has undergone substantial expansion in recent years as U.S. drone operations in that country were moved from Camp Lemonnier to this more remote location. It soon became a regional hub for unmanned aircraft not just for Africa but also for the Middle East. By the beginning of October 2015, for example, drones flown from Chabelley had already logged more than 24,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and were also, according to the Air Force, “responsible for the neutralization of 69 enemy fighters, including five high-valued individuals” in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

AFRICOM’s inventory of CLs also includes sites in Nzara, South Sudan; Arlit, Niger; both Bamako and Gao, Mali; Kasenyi, Uganda; Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles; Monrovia, Liberia; Ouassa and Nema, Mauritania; Faya Largeau, Chad; Bujumbura, Burundi; Lakipia, the site of a Kenyan Air Force base; and another Kenyan airfield at Wajir that was upgraded and expanded by the U.S. Navy earlier in this decade, as well as an outpost in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, that was reportedly shuttered in 2015 after nearly five years of operation.

A longtime contingency location in Niamey, the capital of Niger, has seen marked growth in recent years as has a more remote location, a Nigerien military base at Agadez, listed among the “proposed” CSLs in the AFRICOM documents. The U.S. is, in fact, pouring $100 million into building up the base, according to a 2016 investigation by the Intercept. N'Djamena, Chad, the site of yet another “proposed CSL,” has actually been used by the U.S. military for years. Troops and a drone were dispatched there in 2014 to aid in operations against Boko Haram and “base camp facilities” were constructed there, too.

The list of proposed CLs also includes sites in Berbera, a town in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, and in Mogadishu, the capital of neighboring Somalia (another locale used by American troops for years), as well as the towns of Baidoa and Bosaso. These or other outposts are likely to play increasingly important roles as the Trump administration ramps up its military activities in Somalia, the long-failed state that saw 18 U.S. personnel killed in the disastrous “Black Hawk Down” mission of 1993. Last month, for instance, President Trump relaxed rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the U.S. conducts drone strikes and commando raids in that country and so laid the foundation for a future escalation of the war against al-Shabaab there. This month, AFRICOM confirmed that dozens of soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, a storied light infantry unit, would be deployed to that same country in order to train local forces to, as a spokesperson put it, “better fight” al-Shabaab.

Many other sites previously identified as U.S. outposts or staging areas are not listed in AFRICOM’s 2015 plans, such as bases in Djema, Sam Ouandja, and Obo in the Central African Republic that were revealed, in recent years, by the Washington Post. Also missing is a newer drone base in Garoua, Cameroon, not to mention that Tunisian air base where the U.S. has been flying drones, according to AFRICOM’s Waldhauser, “for quite some time.”

Some bases may have been shuttered, while others may not yet have been put in service when the documents were produced. Ultimately, the reasons that these and many other previously identified bases are not included in the redacted secret files are unclear due to AFRICOM’s refusal to offer comment, clarification, or additional information on the locations of its bases.

Base Desires


“Just as the U.S. pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same,” laments AFRICOM in its 2017 posture statement.
“We continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency.”

Since it was established as an independent command in 2008, however, AFRICOM itself has been anything but transparent about its activities on the continent. The command’s physical footprint may, in fact, have been its most jealously guarded secret. Today, thanks to AFRICOM’s own internal documents, that secret is out and with AFRICOM’s admission that it currently maintains “15 enduring locations,” the long-peddled fiction of a combatant command with just one base in its area of operations has been laid to rest.

“Because of the size of Africa, because of the time and space and the distances, when it comes to special crisis-response-type activities, we need access in various places on the continent,” said AFRICOM chief Waldhauser during his March press conference. 
 
These “various places” have also been integral to escalating American shadow wars, including a full-scale air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, which ended late last year, and ongoing intelligence-gathering missions and a continued U.S. troop presence in that country; drone assassinations and increased troop deployments in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab; and increasing engagement in a proxy war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad region of Central Africa. For these and many more barely noticed U.S. military missions, America’s sprawling, ever-expanding network of bases provides the crucial infrastructure for cross-continental combat by U.S. and allied forces, a low-profile support system for war-making in Africa and beyond.

Without its wide-ranging constellation of bases, it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. to carry out ceaseless low-profile military activities across the continent. As a result, AFRICOM continues to prefer shadows to sunlight. While the command provided figures on the total number of U.S. military bases, outposts, and staging areas in Africa, its spokespeople failed to respond to repeated requests to provide locations for any of the 46 current sites. While the whereabouts of the new outposts may still be secret, there’s little doubt as to the trajectory of America’s African footprint, which has increased by 10 locations -- a 28% jump -- in just over two years.

America’s “enduring” African bases “give the United States options in the event of crisis and enable partner capacity building,” according to AFRICOM’s Chuck Prichard. They have also played a vital role in conflicts from Yemen to Iraq, Nigeria to Somalia. With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, and the potential for more crises -- from catastrophic famines to spreading wars -- on the horizon, there’s every reason to believe the U.S. military’s footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand, and enlarge in the years ahead, outpost by outpost and base by base.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His latest book, Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan, was a finalist for the 2016 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award. His website is NickTurse.com.

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Copyright 2017 Nick Turse