No Longer Nuclear Zero

The nuclear weapons chatter is rising by the day. The Saudis paid for much of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program that included an agreement to access to weapons at a future date. The ongoing talks the P5+1 with Iran has Saudi Arabia dusting off their immediate options. The White House and John Kerry are seeing a final date slippage with regard to the June 30 deadline, but to what end?

There has been recent inquiries into Israel’s nuclear program exposing their weapons systems, something that has never been previously discussed.

Vladimir Putin has recently increased his own nuclear points and expansion of flights by his nuclear bombers that include the Ukraine, Poland and northern Europe. This has NATO expressing distress and a counter-measures strategy.

Yet Russia has had some chilling nuclear weapons program history putting the world that includes jihadi network into the equation.

Breakdown in U.S.-Russia relations raises risk of nuclear-armed jihadists

In the last several years, a number of troubling events have revealed weaknesses in Russian nuclear security. A Russian general in command of nuclear weapon storage sites was fired due to massive corruption. A colonel in the Russian Ministry of Interior in charge of nuclear security inspections was arrested for soliciting bribes to overlook security violations. One American researcher visiting a nuclear facility was told it would take merely $100 to bribe his way in.

Graft in Russia is rife, and corruption plus available uranium is a troubling combination. This vulnerability is heightened by the fact that at many nuclear sites the accounting systems to track uranium and plutonium could not sufficiently identify thefts of newly manufactured or older stored fissile materials. More broadly, Russia does not possess a master baseline inventory of all nuclear materials produced in the former Soviet Union — and where all of it is today.

At a 2010 summit of world leaders, President Barack Obama described nuclear terrorism as “the single biggest threat to U.S. security.” He’s right — but as the crisis in Ukraine festers, recent U.S. actions have unraveled decades of successful cooperation with Russia to reduce the risk.

While some argue that the United States needs to “punish” Russia due to Moscow’s contribution to the crisis in Ukraine, this is akin to cutting off our nose to spite our face. Given the threat from “loose nukes” to our national security, the United States should take steps to jump-start U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, American policymakers suddenly faced a frightening new threat: Poverty and chaos caused a complete breakdown in security throughout the former Soviet nuclear complex. Insiders at top-secret Russian nuclear weapons plants tried to steal and sell nuclear materials on the black market. Unpaid guards at nuclear sites left their posts to search for food. A senior White House science adviser even discovered more than 150 pounds of highly enriched uranium — enough for several nuclear bombs — sitting unguarded in lockers in the middle of Moscow.

In response to this threat, the United States spent billions of dollars under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program to help Russia secure its nuclear materials and facilities. From the deactivation of almost 8,000 Russian nuclear warheads to the building of a massive storage facility for 27 tons of fissile materials, CTR was arguably the most successful American foreign aid program in history.

Following the conclusion of the CTR program in 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom signed a comprehensive nuclear cooperation agreement. This agreement, which was designed to build trust between the two countries, called for projects ranging from the development of advanced nuclear security and safety technologies, to visits by each side’s scientists to the other’s most sensitive nuclear labs and facilities.

Less than seven months after the agreement was signed, however, the DOE dealt a devastating blow to Russian-American nuclear security cooperation, banning Russian nuclear scientists from visiting the United States while also banning DOE nuclear scientists from visiting Russia.

The current defense budget, passed seven months after the DOE’s action, also bars all funding for nuclear nonproliferation activities and assistance in Russia.

Its pride wounded, Russia retaliated, first announcing it would boycott the 2016 nuclear security summit in Chicago and then informing U.S. officials it would no longer accept American aid to help secure Russia’s weapons-grade uranium and plutonium — a significant blow to U.S. national security.

Nuclear security in Russia is undoubtedly better than it was in the 1990s. Guards at nuclear sites are paid on time. Perimeter fences surrounding these sites no longer have holes. Fissile materials are no longer stored in lockers. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that while physical security at nuclear sites is greatly improved, real problems still remain. Russia continues to have the world’s largest nuclear stockpile and there are more than 200 buildings and bunkers where highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium is stored. Sophisticated criminals could still exploit the remaining weaknesses in Russian nuclear security.

We know that Osama bin Laden considered a nuclear attack targeting American civilians to be a legitimate action, and last year Islamic State stole 88 pounds of non-enriched uranium compounds from a university in Mosul. With nearly 2,000 Russian citizens fighting with Middle East extremist groups, if fissile material does end up in the hands of militants, it is quite possible it will have originated from Russia.

The DOE should work with Rosatom to restart the September 2013 agreement and implement the reciprocal nuclear site visits, scientist-to-scientist cooperation and joint-research the agreement envisions. The personal relationships developed over decades of cooperation between Russian and American scientists are too important to jeopardize — we are only shooting ourselves in the foot by cutting these off.

The United States should also understand that the narrative from the 1990s whereby the United States is a donor and Russia is an aid recipient is no longer acceptable in Moscow. Going forward, nuclear cooperation must be reframed as a partnership of equals, with both sides contributing to the conversation about how and why to strengthen security. Republicans and Democrats should put aside partisan differences and fully fund U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation — whatever that ultimately involves. The Obama administration is proposing to spend $348 billion upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next ten years. It’s worth spending a tiny fraction of that money to prevent loose nukes.

All of these steps require that the United States end the linkage between nuclear security cooperation with Russia and the crisis in Ukraine. While the current political environment makes this difficult, not doing so is foolhardy.

*** Yet there is nuclear weapons and testing history that is important to understand and an example is the Marshall Islands and the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. Fascinating read is here. A declassified video is below:


Chicago, Case Study of Foreign Takeover

Chicago is in financial trouble and could be the next major metropolitan city to stand in bankruptcy court. This is not a recent condition yet in 2004, infrastructure was being sold off to raise revenue.

The Brookings Institution found that the Chicago region had more than 4,000 foreign-owned establishments that employed more than 223,000 people, according to 2011 data, the most recent available. In total employment at foreign-owned companies, Chicago ranks third in the nation, behind New York and Los Angeles.

Toll roads in Chicago are now in the ownership of Cintra, the largest private sector transportation corporation. Cintra is based in Spain and layers deep the King of Spain Juan Carlos is a player. No wonder that Michelle Obama has visited Spain twice eh?

Another move for Chicago, Al Faisal Group (one of Qatar real estate investment arms) bought the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel.

Qatar Airways announced plans to expand its U.S. service in 2014 by adding Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia to a lineup of destinations that includes Houston, Washington, New York and Chicago. And last month, Qatar said it will spend $19 billion to buy 50 Boeing 777 aircraft, part of a larger deal between the U.S. aviation company and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The number of Qatari students at U.S. universities has jumped fivefold in the past decade, and the Qatari Foundation International is spending $5 million this year to encourage U.S. schools to teach Arabic. *** Qatar provided financial and political support for Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the ruling Ennahda party in Tunisia, but it has more recently backed away from that role, especially after a military coup ousted Qatar’s allies from control of Egypt.

Then there is China and a new foothold in Chicago.

Wanda announces $900 million investment in Chicago hotel project

The Wanda Group announced on June 8 that it would invest US$900 million in the United States’ second largest city Chicago, to build the city’s third tallest building.

The Chicago site is located in the vibrant and affluent Lakeshore East development in downtown Chicago, one of the last remaining sites within the Lakeshore East area. Many of Chicago’s well-known sites and attractions are within walking distance from the site, such as the Theatre District, Museum Campus and Michigan Ave.

Wanda Group will build a 350-meter high, 89-floor skyscraper, which will have a gross floor area of 131,400 square meters. The building will also house a 240-room luxury five-star hotel as well as luxury apartments and a commercial center. The project will begin construction this year and officially open in 2018.

The Chicago project is Wanda Group’s third overseas five-star hotel project, following announcements of luxury hotel projects in London and Madrid.

“Investing in Chicago property is just Wanda’s first move into the US real estate market,” said Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin, “Within a year, Wanda will invest in more five-star hotel projects in major US cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By 2020, Wanda will have Wanda branded five-star hotels in 12-15 major world cities and build an internationally influential Chinese luxury hotel brand.” If you go to the movies, an AMC theater….China.

In January 2011 The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released the report Capturing Chicago’s Global Opportunity. The report found that although Chicago ranks as one of the top ten global cities, “it lags its global peers in the amount of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in the city.” This was based on the 2010 PricewaterhouseCoopers Cities of Opportunity study in which Chicago scored seventeenth out of twenty-one capital market centers around the world on physical growth due to the low level of FDI. The more recent 2011 Cities of Opportunity study ranked Chicago twenty-fourth out of twenty-six cities in attracting FDI capital investments and greenfield projects.

To better understand the challenges and opportunities of FDI in Chicago and develop a comprehensive FDI strategy for the area, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs convened a group of prominent Chicago business and civic leaders that began meeting in January 2012. The study was cochaired by Michael H. Moskow, former president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and currently vice chairman and senior fellow for the global economy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and William A. Osborn, former chairman and chief executive officer of Northern Trust Corporation. After months of research, interviews, meetings on the issue and on the strategies and experiences of other major global metropolitan areas, the study group developed key recommendations to help the city reach out to foreign-owned companies and increase FDI through existing and new sources of investment.

This report presents the findings and recommendations of the study group members on how to best advance Chicago’s economic development through global engagement.

Oh, if you happen to shop for fine and distinctive jewels at Tiffany’s, well Qatar has ownership in that too. So, what foreign entity owns your company, your roads, your grocery store or has financial influence on the school your child attends?



Military Dominance Under Obama, Lost

Just about every country across the globe relies on the United States military for defense, support and technology. Yet under the current sequestration which was concocted by the Obama White House, the United States and NATO’s competitive edge is no longer a possibility or probability as compared to Russia and China.

The Air Force’s continued budgetary constraints are limiting its ability to maintain dominance over competitors such as China and Russia, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall said Sept. 17.“Today, the predominance that our military has enjoyed for decades confronts powerful enemies,” Kendall said at the Air Force Association’s annual conference at National Harbor, Maryland. Kendall was pinch-hitting for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who could not make it to the keynote address. Rather than deliver his own speech, Kendall read from Hagel’s prepared remarks.

The Air Force is tasked with being the greatest air power in the world, he said, but is being asked to maintain its edge with fewer resources. And the reason it has fewer resources is the current budget environment, he said.
The Obama White House predicted that the conflict with Islamic State, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria will bleed into the next administration, but at what cost and why?
At issue in Washington today is the The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which has passed the Senate. The dispute is this legislation required security clearance to gain access to the language and most have not read the framework while the entire bill is not fully written much less accessible. Another why? Well maybe it has something to do with China. One must ask could Barack Obama be setting the table for a future conflict with China and or Russia all while sequestration is destroying our military dominance and readiness?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is now being touted as the answer to U.S. security concerns with the People’s Republic of China. This is just the latest argument from TPP proponents to advance fast track trade negotiating authority in Congress and to ease passage for the TPP under expedited and preferential procedures. Unfortunately, this argument just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Over the last several years China has assumed an increasingly aggressive role in Asia. Its posture challenges the interests of many of its neighbors; Japan, for example, has scrambled jets repeatedly as China has tested the perimeters of its defense and confronted fishing and other vessels. China has challenged the maritime interests of other nations in the South and East China Seas. China has laid claim to small land masses as a way of expanding its territorial interests and is shoring up small reefs with airstrips and outposts to counter the interests of others in the region. China has tried to establish offshore oil rigs in waters claimed by Vietnam and is directly countering the interests of other nations in the region.
The following is a May 21, 2015 letter from Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter asking the Pentagon not to invite the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy to the international Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises in 2016 due primarily to China’s extensive reclamation efforts in contested areas in the South China Sea. Letter is found here.
There is no doubt that not only is there no defined campaign strategy to deal with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but looking ahead there is no strategy to deal with China and Russia.

“Obama has not done a damn thing so far to confront ISIS; doesn’t that show that there is no will in America to confront it?”

This is what Qassem Suleimani said about U.S. President Obama, who has become the laughing-stock throughout the Muslim world, even accusing Obama as “being an accomplice in the plot”.

Suleimani is no small fry. He could only advance to his stature as result of Obama’s exit strategy in Iraq to become the head of Iran’s Quds Force as well as Iran’s appointee, to manage Iran’s external affairs (specifically in Iraq), which made him the most powerful operative in the Middle East. The U.S. has no say so in Iraq and Suleimani is flexing his muscle to tell the world that Iran is now roosting in Iraq.

In Iran, the daily newspaper Javan, which is seen as close to the Revolutionary Guard, quoted Soleimani as saying the U.S. didn’t do a “damn thing” to stop the extremists’ advance on Ramadi.


Intersection with China, Spratley Showdown Brewing

CNN: The Spratlys are some 750 separate, uninhabited islands in the middle of the South China Sea. Most are more like rocks than islands, but their ownership has been fiercely contested over the last decade by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia. All for good reason — the Spratlys sit off sizable reserves of oil and natural gas.

China isn’t just remaking the Spratlys. It’s preparing to defend its claims by force.

Outraged, other countries like the Philippines and Vietnam have been urging the United States to counter China’s de facto annexation and gross breach of international law. As usual, the Obama administration has instead opted to remain largely neutral, while hoping a few expressions of diplomatic concern will make the problem go away.

But with the Fiery Cross Reef runway ready to be finished by year’s end (as one unnamed Navy official told Reuters), the U.S. military is planning to send aircraft and ships to counter China’s moves. The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth sailed out to the Spratlys this month, along with a reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle and Seahawk helicopter to reconnoiter China’s activities.

China warns U.S. surveillance plane

The Chinese navy issued warnings eight times as a U.S. surveillance plane on Wednesday swooped over islands that Beijing is using to extend its zone of influence.

The series of man-made islands and the massive Chinese military build-up on them have alarmed the Pentagon, which is carrying out the surveillance flights in order to make clear the U.S. does not recognize China’s territorial claims. The militarized islands have also alarmed America’s regional allies.

A CNN team was given exclusive access to join in the surveillance flights over the contested waters, which the Pentagon allowed for the first time in order to raise awareness about the challenge posed by the islands and the growing U.S. response.

CNN was aboard the P8-A Poseidon, America’s most advanced surveillance and submarine-hunting aircraft, and quickly learned that the Chinese are themselves displeased by the U.S. pushback.

“This is the Chinese navy … This is the Chinese navy … Please go away … to avoid misunderstanding,” a voice in English crackled through the radio of the aircraft in which CNN was present.

This is the first time first time the Pentagon has declassified video of China’s building activity and audio of Chinese challenges of a U.S. aircraft.

The aircraft flew at 15,000 feet in the air at its lowest point, but the U.S. is considering flying such surveillance missions even closer over the islands, as well as sailing U.S. warships within miles of them, as part of the new, more robust U.S. military posture in the area.

Soon after the Chinese communication was heard, its source appeared on the horizon seemingly out of nowhere: an island made by China some 600 miles from its coastline.

The South China Sea is the subject of numerous rival — often messy — territorial claims over an area that includes fertile fishing grounds and potentially rich reserves of undersea natural resources. China is increasingly showing that even far from its mainland, it sees itself as having jurisdiction over the body of water.

Wednesday’s mission was specifically aimed at monitoring Chinese activities on three islands that months ago were reefs barely peaking above the waves. Now they are massive construction projects that the U.S. fears will soon be fully functioning military installations.

China’s alarming creation of entirely new territory in the South China Sea is one part of a broader military push that some fear is intended to challenge U.S. dominance in the region. Beijing is sailing its first aircraft carrier; equipping its nuclear missiles with multiple warheads; developing missiles to destroy us warships; and, now, building military bases far from its shores.

“I’m scratching my head like everyone else as to what’s the (Chinese) end game here. We have seen increased activity even recently on what appears to be the building of military infrastructure,” Capt. Mike Parker, commander of the fleet of P8 and P3 surveillance aircraft deployed to Asia, told CNN aboard the P8.

“We were just challenged 30 minutes ago and the challenge came from the Chinese navy, and I’m highly confident it came from ashore, this facility here,” Parker said of the Chinese message for the U.S. plane to move away, as he pointed to an early warning radar station on an expanded Fiery Cross Reef.

In just two years, China has expanded these islands by 2,000 acres — the equivalent of 1,500 football fields — and counting, an engineering marvel in waters as deep as 300 feet.

In video filmed by the P8’s surveillance cameras, we see that in addition to early warning radar, Fiery Cross Reef is now home to military barracks, a lofty lookout tower and a runway long enough to handle every aircraft in the Chinese military. Some call it China’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

In a sign of just how valuable China views these islands to be, the new islands are already well protected.

From the cockpit, Lt. Cmdr Matt Newman told CNN, “There’s obviously a lot of surface traffic down there: Chinese warships, Chinese coast guard ships. They have air search radars, so there’s a pretty good bet they’re tracking us.”

The proof was loud and clear. The Chinese navy ordered the P8 out of the airspace eight times on this mission alone.

Each time, the American pilots told them calmly and uniformly that the P8 was flying through international airspace.

That answer sometimes frustrated the Chinese radio operator on the other end.

Once he responds with exasperation: “This is the Chinese navy … You go!”

This is a military-to-military stand-off in the skies, but civilian aircraft can find themselves in the middle.

As was heard on the first of several Chinese warning on the radio, the pilot of a Delta flight in the area spoke on the same frequency, quickly identifying himself as commercial. The voice on the radio then identified himself as “the Chinese Navy” and the Delta flight went on its way.

The more China builds, U.S. commanders told CNN, the more frequently and aggressively the Chinese navy warns away U.S. military aircraft.

Over Fiery Cross Reef and, later, Mischief Reef, fleets of dozens of dredgers could be seen hard at work, sucking sand off the bottom of the sea and blowing it in huge plumes to create new land above the surface, while digging deep harbors below.

“We see this every day,” Parker said. “I think they work weekends on this because we see it all the time.”