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Thursday, May 14, 2020

In a Pandemic, Military Spending is an Extravagant Waste

















In the very near future, countries are going to have to choose whether they make guns or vaccines.


By Conn Hallinan
Foreign Policy in Focus

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”— Albert Camus, “The Plague”

May 13, 2020 - Camus’ novel of a lethal contagion in the North African city of Oran is filled with characters all too recognizable today: indifferent or incompetent officials, short-sighted and selfish citizens, and lots of great courage. What not even Camus could imagine, however, is a society in the midst of a deadly epidemic pouring vast amounts of wealth into instruments of death.

Welcome to the world of the hypersonic weapons, devices that are not only superfluous, but which will almost certainly not work. They will, however, cost enormous amounts of money. At a time when countries across the globe are facing economic chaos, financial deficits, and unemployment at Great Depression levels, arms manufacturers are set to cash in big.

A Hypersonic Arms Race

Hypersonic weapons are missiles that go five times faster than sound — 3,800 mph — although some reportedly can reach speeds of Mach 20, 15,000 mph. They come in two basic varieties. One is powered by a high-speed scramjet. The other, launched from a plane or missile, glides to its target. The idea behind the weapons is that their speed and maneuverability will make them virtually invulnerable to anti-missile systems.

Currently there is a hypersonic arms race going on among China, Russia, and the U.S., and, according to the Pentagon, the Americans are desperately trying to catch up with its two adversaries.

Truth is the first casualty in an arms race.

In the 1950s, it was the “bomber gap” between the Americans and the Soviets. In the 1960s, it was the “missile gap” between the two powers. Neither gap existed, but vast amounts of national treasure were nonetheless poured into long-range aircraft and thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The enormous expenditures on those weapons, in turn, heightened tensions between the major powers and on at least three occasions came very close to touching off a nuclear war.

In the current hypersonic arms race, “hype” is the operational word. “The development of hypersonic weapons in the United States,” says physicist James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “has been largely motivated by technology, not by strategy. In other words, technologists have decided to try and develop hypersonic weapons because it seems like they should be useful for something, not because there is a clearly defined mission need for them to fulfill.”

They have certainly been “useful” to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms manufacturer in the world. The company has already received $3.5 billion to develop the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (Arrow) glide missile, and the scramjet-driven Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (Hacksaw) missile.

The Russians also have several hypersonic missiles, including the Avangard glide vehicle, a missile said to be capable of Mach 20. China is developing several hypersonic missiles, including the DF-ZF, supposedly capable of taking out aircraft carriers.

“No Advantage Whatsoever”

In theory hypersonic missiles are unstoppable. In real life, not so much.

The first problem is basic physics: speed in the atmosphere produces heat. High speed generates lots of it. ICBMs avoid this problem with a blunt nose cone that deflects the enormous heat of re-entering the atmosphere as the missile approaches its target. But it only has to endure heat for a short time because much of its flight is in frictionless low earth orbit.

Hypersonic missiles, however, stay in the atmosphere their entire flight. That is the whole idea. An ICBM follows a predictable ballistic curve, much like an inverted U and, in theory, can be intercepted. A missile traveling as fast as an ICBM but at low altitude, however, is much more difficult to spot or engage.

But that’s when physics shows up and does a Las Vegas: what happens on the drawing board stays on the drawing board.


Without a heat deflecting nose cone, high-speed missiles are built like big needles, since they need to decrease the area exposed to the atmosphere. Even so, they are going to run very hot. And if they try to maneuver, that heat will increase. Since they can’t carry a large payload, they will have to be very accurate — but as a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, that is “problematic.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

US Sends Navy Ships to Caribbean in ‘Anti-Drug’ Mission Targeting Venezuela














A map produced by the US Southern Command shows the main drug-smuggling routes in Latin America connecting Colombia and Ecuador with Guatemala and Mexico via the Pacific Ocean.


Venezuela denounced an attack on one of its naval vessels in recent days.


By Ricardo Vaz and Lucas Koerner
Venezuelanalysis.com

Mérida, April 2, 2020 - The Trump administration is dispatching US Navy warships to the Caribbean Sea in an effort to turn up the pressure on Venezuela.

The initiative was announced by President Donald Trump and other high ranking officials in a press conference Wednesday.

The move is allegedly part of a wider “anti-narcotics” operation in the region, which in addition to Navy destroyers will reportedly involve AWAC surveillance aircraft and on-ground special forces units. The Associated Press reported that the operation is one of the largest in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama.

“We must not let malign actors exploit the [coronavirus] situation for their own gain,” Trump said.

The military deployment came on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) levying “narco-terrorism” charges against top-ranking Venezuelan officials, as well as a “democratic transition” plan unveiled by the State Department.

On March 26, the DoJ accused President Nicolas Maduro, National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello and several other officials of conspiring with FARC rebels to “flood” the US with cocaine.

Critics have pointed to the dearth of concrete evidence implicating top Venezuelan leaders and to the fact that data from US agencies shows that only a small fraction of drug routes pass through Venezuela, with most cocaine entering US territory via Central America and Mexico.

On Tuesday, the State Department unveiled a “framework for a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela,” calling for Maduro’s resignation and the establishment of a transition government headed by opposition and Chavista officials to oversee new elections.

The Trump administration pledged to lift sanctions against Venezuelan individuals and key economic sectors, but only after Maduro left office and all security agreements with Russia and Cuba were terminated.

The US has vowed to ramp up unilateral sanctions until the Maduro administration accepts the deal.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Trump’s Afghanistan Deal Prioritizes Bragging Rights Over Lasting Peace
















U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sign a peace agreement during a ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020. KARIM JAAFAR / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Marjorie Cohn
Truthout

March 4, 2020 - It’s true that the Trump administration signed a “peace deal” with the Taliban — something that eluded both George W. Bush and Barack Obama — but a closer look at the agreement reveals it to be riddled with conditions that are fraught with obstacles.

The terms of the deal suggest that Trump is more interested in boasting that he’s fulfilling his campaign promise to bring the troops home than he is committed to achieving real peace in Afghanistan. This fact has also been noted by Trump’s former national security aides, some of whom have said that the president “is far less interested in an actual Afghan peace” than in claiming he is making good on his vow to withdraw the U.S. troops.

The agreement announced on February 29 should not rightly be called a “peace deal,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) said in a statement. Although the agreement “is a step forward,” Lee noted, “It leaves thousands of troops in Afghanistan and lacks the critical investments in peacebuilding, human-centered development, or governance reform needed to rebuild Afghan society.”

Afghan women activists Mary Akrami, Sahar Halaimzai and Rahela Sidiqi criticized the agreement and the process leading to it in USA Today: “Afghan women and representatives from civil society and other minority groups should have been at the table for the U.S.-Taliban talks that led to this agreement, but we were not.”

Trump’s “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” sets forth a plan for withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan, a mutual release of prisoners, Taliban prevention of attacks against U.S. and allied forces from Afghan soil, and negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Although it claims to be “a comprehensive peace agreement,” as Lee points out, “this so-called ‘peace deal’ is anything but.”

Withdrawal Timeline for All Foreign Forces

The agreement establishes a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. It says the “United States is committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States, its allies and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting service personnel” no later than 14 months after the agreement is announced.