Sunday, March 21, 2021

United Kingdom & The Nuclear Arsenal Expansion

 The United Kingdom has announced its plans to expand its nuclear arsenal, from the originally capped 225 warheads to 260. The announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson comes after a long standing period of the U.K. trying to prove their compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The increased limit of warheads would see an expansion of the UGM-133 Trident II submarine launched ballistic missiles, which have been used to arm the U.K. Royal Navy. In addition to the increased warhead limit, the U.K nuclear program in general seems to be in a transitional phase, which will have several implications for nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

The U.K. has been in a transitionary period as of late, as it was announced in February 2020 that the Navy planned to reduce the number of warheads, however still maintaining a push to update the submarine program. The proposed submarine updates would see an estimated $43 billion put towards developing new Dreadnaught class nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs); a shift from the current four Vanguard class SSBNs. The submarine development would not account for the cost needed to reduce warhead capacity, which is worrisome not just for the U.K. defense budget, but for NPT compliance.  

The shift from the U.K. represents a move away from the JCPOA and NPT agreements which push for the world nuclear powers to pursue nuclear nonproliferation and slowly decrease their arsenals. Other members of the JCPOA have spoken out against the announcement, including Russia and Iran. Russian officials issued a statement saying the U.K.’s warhead limit increase harms global stability and strategic security”. Iran followed suite and issued a statement noting Prime Minister Johnson’s hypocrisy, as Johnson had recently expressed concern over the direction of the Iranian nuclear program. The U.K.’s announcement has certainly created a stir amongst the world nuclear powers, but it has also reignited the conversation over NPT compliance. The increase in warhead caps does not indicate nonproliferation cooperation from the U.K. which is especially worrisome as it could potentially impact the efforts of the U.S. and Iran returning to the JCPOA. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

United States Use of Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons

 Low-yield nuclear weapons have started to gain popularity among certain government officials. However, the impact that these would have on the international community is extensive.

Nuclear weapons, regardless of the yield, have only been used in 1945 against Japan to put an end to World War II. Since 1945, nuclear weapons have only been used as a deterrent. If the United States chooses to start using low-yield nuclear weapons, all other nuclear powers would potentially start using their nuclear arsenal as well under the same pretext as the United States. For instance, if the United States were to use a nuclear weapon to eliminate a terrorist threat, Russia could potentially start using similar weapons for purposes that could be deemed as equivalent before Russian eyes. This also could unchain an escalation when it comes to the yield of the weapons to be used. While the United States might start with a weapon as low as a kiloton, the next nuclear power could launch an attack with a nuclear weapon of one and a half kiloton, slowly increasing the power of the weapons used as powers perceive as acceptable the use of higher-yield weapons.

The target of such an attack is also relevant. If the target is a nuclear power, such a country would not know the yield of the weapon that is incoming and could potentially retaliate with a much bigger bomb in a disproportionate manner. However, if it is not a nuclear power, this would also have serious consequences. Countries might start to rethink their position regarding the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. While perhaps not a majority, some of the countries that pledged not to attempt acquiring nuclear weapons might perceive that without such, the next nuclear attack might be on their soil, and potentially without their consent. If the attack is carried out even without consent, this would encourage countries without nuclear weapons to acquire them in order to have a more convincing say in future scenarios.

With the use of low-yield nuclear weapons not only there is a great possibility of escalation and use of higher yield weapons, but the non-proliferation treaty would also be deemed useless. Increasing the number of nuclear powers, nuclear weapons produces, and nuclear weapons deployed. Therefore, it is in the United States’ interest to abstain from using these.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Iranian Oil Tankers & the JCPOA

Israel is currently facing one of the worst ecological disasters in the history of the country, as over 90% of its coastline became awash in black tar after an oil tanker spill occurred in the international waters of the eastern Mediterranean in early February 2021. As reported by AP, the tanker is suspected of illegally smuggling Iranian oil to Syria in violation of sanctions, which Iran was last accused of in 2019.

Despite accusations from the Israeli Environmental Protection Minister, Gila Gamliel, that the spill was the deliberate orchestration of Iran, the Israeli Defense Ministry thus far has been silent on the issue. On March 12, the Wall Street Journal shared an exclusive report that U.S. intelligence had revealed Israel has bombed at least a dozen ships, most suspected Iranian oil tankers, en route to Syria in the past two years—a previously unreported front in the feud—which makes the swift accusations by Gamliel even more questionable, less for the reason behind the spill than for Israel's active role in motivating aggressive action by Iran. While the Israeli operation has not been directly connected to the oil spill, both of these developments come on top of rising tension between Israel and Iran as the United States explores a return to the JCPOA on Iran’s nuclear program after re-imposing sanctions when leaving the JCPOA in 2018.

Israel, an outspoken critic of the JCPOA, sees Iran, and especially Iran’s nuclear program, as an existential threat and is determined to prevent Iran gaining any strategic nuclear capability. While not officially acknowledged, Israel is a nuclear power—which it values as a key strategic advantage to deterrence against Iran. Israel’s aggressive action against Iran, however, reaffirms Israel’s questionable level of commitment on alternatives to conflict, as it updates plans for a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear sites, in pursuit of peace.

The greatest obstacle to the United States rejoining the JCPOA may not be Iran, but a U.S. ally. Israel, not party to the JCPOA, is convinced that Iran will not follow the limitations of the agreement and will continue covert production of nuclear weapons. Both countries have a clear national security imperative to ascribe to nuclear deterrence theory, which assumes that the threat of a nuclear attack will impose costs that are too high for an adversary to engage in war. Israel does not want another Arab-Israeli war and Iran, knowing that Israel has nuclear capability, does not want a preemptive strike by Israel that seeks to eliminate Iran as a threat. 

However, Iran has also demonstrated a stronger interest than Israel in cooperation on nuclear energy, which presents an opportunity to limit its nuclear program to match international norms, make violations more difficult to hide and compliance more attractive, and take steps to prevent a similar lack of transparency to North Korea's nuclear program in the Middle East. Although numerous articles have been written lauding Israel's nuclear arsenal as the reason for the lack of open conflict between Israel and Iran in recent decades, Israel's superiority in conventional warfare makes the added deterrence of nuclear weapons of questionable importance. Considering the rippling costs of using such a weapon to environmental and regional health as well, Iran's nuclear program is symptomatic of trust issues between two adversaries with a long history of conflict that is unlikely to be improved without a sustained effort by international and regional actors to minimize new reasons for unilateral decisionmaking and aggression.

The Polar Silk Road

     China has recently published a new five year plan regarding their intent to build what they are calling the "Polar Silk Road". With the advance of climate change, ice coverage in the Arctic is expected to rapidly decline creating navigable waters where ice once stood. Vessels will be able to transit the Arctic in two thirds of the time of the traditional route from East Asia through the Suez. This not only is concerning regarding Chinese Arctic influence militarily but also what it means for the active defense against climate change. 

    Firstly, China has already declared in 2018 themselves to be a "near Arctic power" which makes their commitment to the Arctic region transparent. We have already seen with the South China Sea conflict that the Chinese are willing and capable of committing large amounts of monetary, naval and construction resources in order to exert their influence where it doesn't belong. It is entirely possible that the Chinese may employ the same techniques in the Arctic as in the South China Sea. The lack of population, existing infrastructure and generally unexplored territory breeds a perfect opportunity for China to artificially colonize the Arctic. Existing islands buried under the current ice layer could provide sanctuary for the Chinese Navy or the blueprint for a military base.

    Secondly, the excitement of Chinese to begin maritime trade operations undermines the goal of most Western nations in slowing or reversing climate change. The Chinese commitment to the Arctic fundamentally means that they have abandoned any possible cooperation in terms of climate agreement because the future of trade will be contingent on it. This is incredibly dangerous, possibly even more so than the treat if the Chinese Navy in the Arctic. Having such a large industrious power fully committed to a goal in direct opposition to a collective global effort is very concerning. 

    I believe that likely scenarios in the future are going to look a lot like the current one in the South China Sea and the one I purposed in the Arctic. A succession of frozen conflicts and states of contested peace situations will become more and more commonplace. However, before we directly engage the Chinese in the Arctic and jockey for power perhaps our greatest defense would be not allowing the opportunity to arise for China in the first place. Fighting the Chinese Arctic initiative I believe begins with a strong collective push push from the West to combat climate change. If we can manage to force the hand of the Chinese to participate in robust climate change corrective efforts then perhaps we can undermine their Arctic initiative before it begins. 


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pyongyang and Plutonium

Last month the Biden administration launched a push to reach out to North Korea. Washington reached out to Pyongyang through several channels in an attempt to reduce any type of escalation in the near future, given the threat that North Korea poses. When the United States began attempting to make contact with the North Korean government one month ago, it had been over one year since any communication between the two countries.


Monday, however, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un made the first statement directed toward the Biden administration. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Asia to talk with Japan and South Korea, Kim Yo Jong’s statement was released. She said, “We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off (gun) powder smell in our land. If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.” The statement came before Blinken and Austin were scheduled to meet in Seoul. Kim Yo Jong also criticized the United States and South Korea for holding military exercises that recently began. North Korea has always viewed these exercises as an act of hostility.


The statement comes at an interesting time as officials await details regarding President Biden’s North Korea policy. Monday, White House Press Secretary said, “Diplomacy is always our goal. Our goal is to reduce the risk of escalation.” However, many believe that Kim Jong Un will refuse for several reasons, including the recent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Additionally, recent satellite imagery indicates that North Korea has concealed a facility that U.S. intelligence agencies believe is being used to store nuclear weapons, and more recent images surfaced indicating that North Korea may be trying to extract plutonium to make more nuclear weapons at its main atomic complex. The continued expansion of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal and recent threats from Kim Yo Jong will play a unique role in Biden’s North Korea policy and the future of U.S.-North Korea relations as a whole.  

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Can a Civilian Fleet Be Used for Military Purposes?

When it comes to ships, civilian ships are considered separate from a country’s naval power, as these are not used for military purposes for evident reasons. However, sometimes when a country finds itself in a dire situation, this is the last resort that not many think of. It is evident that civilian boats can virtually only carry out transportation duties, but it can mean a Hail Mary for a military that finds itself out of options. This was the case in 1940 when the Axis powers had cornered the Allied powers at Dunkirk. Hundreds of thousands of troops had nowhere to go and were waiting just to be annihilated or captured by the Axis powers, as transportation from the French territory to the British Isles was limited to nonexistent.

These conditions were less than ideal for the Allies and losing the troops that were stuck in Northern France would mean loss of human capital that could not be afforded. This is when Operation Dynamo comes to play. In an act of desperation and audacity, the Allied powers went for a Hail Mary in which a fleet of hundreds of civilian boats sailed across the English Strait to save the stranded troops little by little. After days of constant sailing from England to France, these civilian boats managed to save 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops, totaling 338,000 troops (“Dunkirk”).

As reckless, desperate, or precipitated Operation Dynamo might have been, the Hail Mary the Allied powers managed to execute was extremely significant in terms of human capital, and a great morale boost even though they had just been expelled from the European mainland. 

Overall, as distinct the division between military naval power and the civilian fleet of a country, the Battle of Dunkirk demonstrated how pertinent creativity might blur or erase this division for the best on the battlefield.

Works Cited:

“Dunkirk Evacuation.” Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Inc., 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

President Biden and the JCPOA

Former President Donald Trump placed sanctions on Iran throughout his presidency, however, during his last months in office he placed even more than usual. From attempting to isolate ‘major’ banks to imposing sanctions against the Iranian oil sector all in the month of October, it appeared that Donald Trump was attempting to make Iranian relations as difficult as possible for the next president.  


Today, President Joe Biden is facing this precise reality. A civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on US targets earlier this month. Additionally, a U.S. service member and five other contractors were injured when rockets hit sites on U.S.-led coalition in northern Iraq. Rockets have also struck U.S. bases in Baghdad, including the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy and other diplomatic missions.


A Shi’ite militia group named Awliya Al Dam claimed responsibility for the attack on a website. It promised to keep targeting U.S. forces in revenge for the attacks that killed Major General Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis under the Trump administration in January 2020. The Trump administration said Shi’a militant groups were armed and supported by Tehran, and this discourse has continued into the Biden administration.


In response to the attacks on U.S. personnel in recent weeks, President Biden launched a strike on Iranian-backed militias in Syria. The Pentagon said the strike destroyed "multiple facilities" and there was a very small number of casualties.


All of these elements have created an interesting environment for President Biden, who wanted to restore the 2015 JCPOA with Iran. In recent weeks, Tehran has increased its nuclear activities and has been producing Uranium-enriched metal, which directly violates the JCPOA. Iran wants a guarantee that the sanctions placed by the Trump administration will be lifted, however President Biden has stood firm against this. This week Iran rejected a European Union offer to hold direct nuclear talks with the US in the coming days.


Some have said that the recent strike against Iranian-backed militias in Syria highlights Iran’s ability to move weapons and personnel. In the year since Soleimani’s death, several new groups have emerged claiming responsibility for targeted attacks on Americans. The relationship between Washington and Tehran has remained tense for years, however, following the events of this week the future of relations are increasingly precarious.

Monday, March 01, 2021

The U.S. Army and Conventional Ground Combat: A Dying Art?

    Traditionally, the U.S. Army has always been about ground combat, infantry, cavalry and artillery. But as the boundaries of combat continued to be pushed the Army was forced to adapt. One image in particular outlines every domain the U.S. Army must occupy in order to have complete control over the combat space. Land, Air, Sea, Space and Cyber are listed as essential for success, but how do these domains align with the main prerogative of the Army?

    With the introduction of the Army Air Corps during World War II the structure of the Army was forever changed. After the war and the divorce of the Air Corps from the Army thus forming the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense soon realized the interdependency of branches that had evolved. With interdependency however comes the logistical nightmare of coordination, information sharing and interbranch rivalries. Ultimately, it was decided that each branch would maintain their own set of diverse resources needed to be quasi-self-sufficient. What did this mean for the Army? It meant rotary aircraft, satellites and cyber assets all allocated to the Army in the name of mission preparedness. That mission however remained the same, to carry out and support ground combat in the event of a conflict. Two decades of the War on Terror have seen the U.S. Army participating in combat operations from Iraq to Afghanistan and things aren’t like they used to be. Certainly the Army has conducted ground combat operation during the War on Terror however, they are anything but conventional. Mostly though we find the Army in a surprising role. Over the last twenty years we see a dramatic rise in occupation, policing and training duties. While the Army is not a stranger to these jobs it is certainly not its primary objective. Conventional ground combat therefore has become a dying art in my opinion. 

    The likelihood of engaging a state in conventional ground combat has drastically diminished over the years. With nuclear deterrents, a shift in focus towards space and cyber operations and the constant pursuit of insurgents who don’t disappear when their territory is occupied its safe to say the combat landscape has changed. Due to these changes I believe that the Army should adopt two schools of thought in order to maintain its mission yet be flexible enough to meet modern threats.The first school of thought would allow the Army to utilize its now vast air and cyber resources as well as its land power to specialize in support of UN peacekeeping missions, occupation of captured territories and counterinsurgency as well as humanitarian aid distribution and logistics. The more traditional half would allow the expertise of the Army to live on into the twenty-first century. Preparing for potential threats, organizing inter-branch cooperation and carrying out conventional ground combat.