Earth’s inner core is doing something weird

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

 

Earth’s inner core is doing something weird

Data from old Soviet weapons tests are helping scientists get a high-resolution look inside our planet.

ON SEPTEMBER 27, 1971, a nuclear bomb exploded on Russia’s Novaya Zemlya islands. The powerful blast sent waves rippling so deep inside Earth they ricocheted off the inner core, pinging an array of hundreds of mechanical ears some 4,000 miles away in the Montana wilderness. Three years later, that array picked up a signal when a second bomb exploded at nearly the same spot.

This pair of nuclear explosions was part of hundreds of tests detonated during the throes of Cold War fervor. Now, the records of these wiggles are making waves among geologists: They have helped scientists calculate one of the most precise estimates yet of how fast the planet’s inner core is spinning.

Surface-dwellers know that Earth spins on its axis once about every 24 hours. But the inner core is a roughly moon-size ball of iron floating within an ocean of molten metal, which means it is free to turn independently from our planet’s large-scale spin, a phenomenon known as super-rotation. And how fast it’s going has been hotly debated.

© NGP, Content may not reflect National Geographic’s current map policy.

Capitalizing on the zigzagged signals from those decades-old nuclear explosions, John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Southern California, now has the latest estimate for this rate. In a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, he reports that the inner core likely inches along just faster than Earth’s surface. If his rate’s right, it means that if you stood on a spot at the Equator for one year, the part of the inner core that was previously beneath you would wind up under a spot 4.8 miles away.

“It’s a careful, good piece of work,” says Paul Richards, a seismologist at Columbia University who was a coauthor on a 1996 study that first documented super-rotation of the inner core. “Something is changing down there.”

Better understanding the history and current dynamics of the iron blob nestled within our planet could yield more clues to the processes charging and stabilizing our magnetic field—a geologic force field that protects our world from various kinds of harmful radiation. We don’t yet fully understand how this magnetic dynamo works, but scientists strongly suspect it’s tied to the mysterious motions deep inside the planet. (Learn what really happens when Earth’s magnetic field flips.)

“The Earth is this extreme natural lab,” says Elizabeth Day, a deep-earth seismologist at Imperial College London who was not part of the work. Thousands of miles below our feet, pressures are crushing and temperatures are searing. “We can’t easily reproduce all of those in an actual laboratory. But if we can peer into the Earth, we get a bit of insight into this really extreme set of conditions.”

The new work is just one of many attempts to figure out the core’s rate of super-rotation, but offers one of the slowest rates for super-rotation yet suggested. Still, the differences between these studies is not necessarily a bad thing, Day says.

“It doesn’t mean anyone is wrong,” she says. “It just means everyone is looking at slightly different things.”

Core conundrum

Previous work, including the paper Richards coauthored, used various properties of earthquake waves traveling through the planet to deliver their estimates for the inner core’s super-rotation, with several sitting around a few tenths of a degree a year. Such measurements aren’t easy to make, though, and the resolution of many of these analyses were low. But unlike earthquakes, which send out juddering waves, nuclear explosions provide a clean signal to work with.

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“This is like Earth just got hit with a hammer,” Day says.

The issue was extracting the data, which were encoded on nine-track tapes by the Large Aperture Seismic Array in Montana. By the 1990s, the tapes had made their way to the Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory, where Paul Earle, then a graduate student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, was tasked with extracting the echoes of Soviet nuclear tests from the deteriorating tapes.

Earle spent two weeks in a room full of boxes laden with discs sporting cryptic labels. Many of the tapes were worn, their magnetic information lost to time. Roughly one in 10 couldn’t be read by a tape-player, says Earle, who is now a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

But the effort was worth it. Earle, Vidale, and Doug Dodge of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used the scattered waves from these nuclear explosions to peer into the planet’s core. By comparing the fingerprint of waves scattered back from explosions at nearly the same location in 1971 and 1974, the team could calculate how much faster the inner core turned relative to the rest of the planet. The process is similar to tracking a moving airplane using radar, Richards notes.

Their initial results, published in a 2000 Nature study, pointed to a rotation rate of 0.15 degrees a year. Vidale then shifted gears and didn’t give the inner core much thought for nearly 15 years.

Digging deeper

That changed in December 2018, when he walked through the bustling poster hall at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference. There, Vidale spotted the work of Jiayuan Yao, now a research fellow in geophysics at Nanyang Technological University.

Yao had combed through tens of thousands of earthquakes in search of pairs that strike at different times in precisely the same location. By comparing the seismic waves that grazed the inner core from 40 of these geologic twins, he hoped to suss out the mysteries held deep in our planet.

“That is really great data,” Vidale recalls thinking. However, Yao’s interpretation of the data didn’t point toward super-rotation, and instead suggested something else seemed to be going on.

Intrigued by this conundrum, Vidale turned back to his dataset on the nuclear explosions, but with the original analysis codes nowhere to be found, he had to start from scratch, digging even deeper into the Cold War-era ripples with an updated method.

His resulting analysis still yielded super-rotation, but it was both slower and more precise than previous estimates, pointing instead toward the newly described rate of 0.07 degree a year between 1971 and 1974.

Certain uncertainty

But while other scientists praise the thoroughness of Vidale’s latest work, the debate seems far from settled.

Yao and his colleagues recently published an intriguing alternative explanation using his data from twin earthquakes. Perhaps, they posit, the inner core is actually rotating at the same speed as the rest of our planet, and the apparent difference could instead be explained by the inner core having a jagged surface that shifts over time, with mountains rising or canyons cutting into the iron orb. (Read about ‘mountains’ taller than Everest that lurk deep inside Earth.)

Vidale finds that analysis intriguing, but while he agrees that there may be more than super-rotation in the mix, he’s skeptical of Yao’s precise explanation.

One possibility, Richards argues, is that blob itself is warping over time.

“It’s like when you throw a pizza up in the air,” he says. “It’s spinning, but it’s flopping around. It’s deforming as it rotates.”

It’s also possible that the rate of inner core rotation varies over time, adds Xiaodong Song, a deep-earth seismologist at the University of Illinois who coauthored the 1996 study first documenting inner core rotation. While Vidale’s latest rate is robust, it’s limited to a single time period, so further confirmation is necessary, he says via email.

“It’s so hard to do these studies,” says Jessica Irving, a deep-earth seismologist at Princeton University. “Every scrap of data becomes valuable, and unfortunately there just aren’t very many scraps of data.” Perhaps more definitive answers may be on the horizon. Analyses are getting better, and data are accruing on seismometers around the world that are constantly listening for our planet’s every tremble.

Solving the puzzle of the inner core, Yao says, “doesn’t need to take another decade.”

Editor’s note: Paul Earle’s affiliation has been corrected. He was a graduate student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The story has also been updated to show that Song and Richards were the first to provide seismic evidence of inner core super-rotation.

Maya Wei-Haas is a science staff writer for National Geographic.

 

Russia to hold biggest military drills since Cold War

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Russia to hold biggest military drills since Cold War

Russia will next month hold its biggest war games since at least the 1980s, with around 300,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft

WORLD Updated: Aug 28, 2018 20:18 IST

Russia,Military drill,War games
Military helicopters fire during the Zapad (West) 2017 Russia-Belarus military exercises at the Borisovsky range in Borisov, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (AP File Photo)

Russia will next month hold its biggest war games since at least the 1980s, with around 300,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft, the defence minister said Tuesday.

The Vostok-2018 exercises will be carried out from September 11 to 15 in the country’s east with the participation of China and Mongolia.

“This will be something of a repeat of Zapad-81, but in some senses even bigger,” Sergei Shoigu said of the 1981 war games in Eastern Europe, in comments reported by Russian news agencies.

He said “more than 1,000 aircraft, almost 300,000 troops and almost all the ranges of the Central and Eastern military districts” would be involved in the exercises.

“Imagine 36,000 pieces of military equipment moving together at the same time — tanks, armoured personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles. And all of this, of course, in conditions as close to combat as possible.”

Moscow said last year’s Zapad-2017 military drills, conducted in ally Belarus and regions of Russia, saw the participation of roughly 12,700 troops.

But NATO claimed Russia could have been massively underreporting the scale of the exercises, which some of the alliance’s eastern members said involved more than 100,000 servicemen.

First Published: Aug 28, 2018 16:48 IST

How the ballooning federal debt threatens U.S. defense

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

How the ballooning federal debt threatens U.S. defense

Dan Keeler 

“American economic might is the indispensable foundation of American military might and the essential element in our ability to project a stabilizing power worldwide.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

On June 18, the Senate passed its version of 2019 defense authorization bill. Continuing the recent trend of raising defense spending, the bill proposes an $82 billion increase from 2017, resulting in an overall total defense budget of $716 billion. In an unusually bipartisan sign of cooperative government, these congressional budgets fully support the president and secretary of defense’s recently released National Defense and Military Strategies. Both of these documents prioritize “great power competition” with Russia and China over other issues, and the new budgets allocate national resources to meet the demands of those documents.

Author

Dan Keeler

Federal Executive Fellow – The Brookings Institution

Commander – U.S. Navy

Unfortunately, neither the strategies nor the budgets account for a looming crisis. Driven primarily by increased mandatory spending, the federal debt threatens to consume all other spending, including defense, in the coming decade. Failure to reform mandatory spending now will ultimately erase any near-term gains in national defense and could result in significantly diminished U.S. global influence. Great power competition might continue, but not with the United States as a player.

APPROACHING A CLIFF

Concerns about mandatory spending are not new. Bean counters within and without the government have warned of a reckoning for decades. The reckoning is getting closer.

The largest programs in the mandatory spending category—Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt—are all in some form of unsustainable crisis. This year, trustees from the Social Security and Medicare funds reported they will begin tapping into reserves in order to meet spending requirements. Trustees indicate that the Medicare fund will run out of dollars in 2026. Social Security is in slightly better shape, and will be solvent until 2034. After that, the federal government will have to find other means to fund those programs or apply draconian cuts to benefits.

Simultaneously, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal debt will continue to grow, and that the debt-to-GDP ratio will be 94.5 percent in 2027. Interest payments on that debt will also continue to grow, nearly doubling from 1.6 percent of GDP in 2018 to 3.1 percent in 2028. In dollars, that means net interest payments will increase from $316 billion in 2018 to $915 billion in 2028.

In other words, mandatory spending is going up, way up. As the CBO report states: “The federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path. … Federal policymakers face economic, security, and social challenges requiring difficult policy choices, but a long-term fiscal plan is also needed to preserve flexibility to address unforeseen events.”

DEFENSE SPENDING AT RISK

What does this mean for defense spending? Nothing good.

For the U.S. Navy, for instance—where I am a commander—it will be harder to sustain recent shipbuilding and modernization efforts. Based on the requirements of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, the Navy estimates it needs to increase its current force structure of 280 ships to 355. Using 2017 dollars, the CBO estimates it will cost approximately $27 billion dollars per year, for the next 30 years, to reach a 355-ship Navy. When operating and personnel costs are included, the figure is about $103 billion annually. All of these numbers represent a significant increase from allocations over the last 20 years.

If mandatory spending increases take off and there are no structural changes, Congress will be forced to cut discretionary spending—including for projects like shipbuilding—in the mid-2020s to pay its bills. As it does, ships built in the 1980s and 90s will reach the end of their operating life, and without replacement ships, the nation’s fleet and global influence will shrink. What will happen then? For a current example, look no further than the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. Due to recent austerity measures and budget priorities, the Royal Navy has shrunk to a shadow of its Cold War stature. Just last month, the U.K.’s national security adviser, Mark Sedwill, announced that his nation’s two new aircraft carriers would require allied escorts for wartime operations. Simply put, due to budget cuts, the Royal Navy does not have enough ships to defend its own capital ships. Apply similar scenarios across the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and the fiscal future for defense looks very bleak.

It does not have to be this way. There is still time to avoid the fiscal freight train coming our way. Over the years, experts and elected representatives have proposed numerous reforms to Social Security and Medicare in order to maintain the trusts’ solvency. Similarly, there are solutions for controlling the annual deficits that continue to drive the overall debt higher. Unfortunately, none of the solutions are politically easy. In 2011, a Congressional “super-committee” attempted to find a solution and failed spectacularly. The failure gave birth to the Budget Control Act, commonly known as sequestration. This failure should not preclude another attempt. If the United States wishes to compete on the world stage, it’s time to try again.

A how-to guide for managing the end of the post-Cold War era. Read all the Order from Chaos content »

This Is The Week President Trump Meets President Putin Face To Face In Germany At G-20 Summit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ABC NEWS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will demand the return of two diplomatic compounds seized by the United States when he meets in Germany this week with President Trump for the first time, the Kremlin said, as a senior Russian official warned that Moscow’s patience on the issue was running out.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said his government showed “unusual flexibility” by not retaliating in December when then-President Obama confiscated the two compounds, in New York state and Maryland, and expelled 35 Russian diplomats as punishment for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Ushakov urged Washington to “free Russia from the need to take retaliatory moves,” according to The Associated Press.

The White House has reportedly been mulling returning the compounds in an effort to improve relations with Moscow, and in recent days Russian officials have warned that retaliatory measures have been drawn up if the compounds are not returned. They were nominally used by the Russian Embassy as recreational facilities, but U.S. intelligence has long argued they were bases for espionage.

In a separate statement released today, the Kremlin said Putin would raise the issue with Trump when the two meet in Hamburg, Germany, where the G-20 summit is being held Saturday. The statement said that the Kremlin expected Putin would convey the need to find the “most rapid resolution” on the issue, which it described as an “irritant” in Russian-U.S. relations.

The two leaders’ first meeting is highly anticipated, coming as investigations continue into possible collusion between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials and as relations between Moscow and Washington are being described as at their worst since the Cold War.

There has been intense speculation for months over when the two presidents might come face to face. Since confirming the meeting

last week, the White House has been light on details about what they will discuss.

“There’s no specific agenda. It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about,” Trump’s national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told reporters last week.

McMaster said administration officials had been tasked with drawing up options to confront Russia over “destabilizing behavior,” including cyber threats and political subversion, as well as looking for ways to cooperate on issues such as Syria and North Korea.

Today the Kremlin was more specific, issuing a broad list of areas where it said it believed it could cooperate with the United States. The top issues listed for discussion were Russia’s dissatisfaction with U.S. sanctions, its desire to cooperate on international terrorism, the Syria crisis and improving efforts around nuclear arms control.

Most of the issues resembled those the Kremlin frequently raised with the Obama administration, and the statement emphasized Moscow’s desire for a return to normal relations.

There is “significant potential for coordinating efforts,” the Kremlin statement said. “Our countries can do much together in resolving regional crises,” including Ukraine, Libya and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The statement also said Russia was eager to restore business links with the United States.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday told the news agency Interfax he hoped the meeting would lend clarity to the relationship and warned that not seeking to normalize relations would be a “huge mistake.”

In reality, however, it’s unclear that, beyond the return of the diplomatic compounds, there is much Putin and Trump will be able to ask of each other. In many areas, U.S. and Russian interests have little overlap, and that has not appeared to change under Trump.

On Syria the two have clashed, and last month a U.S. fighter shot down a war plane belonging to Russia’s ally President Bashar al-Assad. The White House has said sanctions will not be lifted on Russia until it withdraws from Crimea, and in the Senate both parties are drawing up more sanctions to punish Russia for its alleged election meddling.

“I don’t think we should expect any kind of breakthrough,” said Maria Lipman, a veteran political analyst in Moscow. “I don’t think we should expect any significant results from this meeting. Not even the beginning of solutions to the major issues.”

During the presidential campaign and after the election, some Russian officials and state media expressed optimism that Trump would mean better relations with the United States. But such hopes have so far largely not materialized.

Lipman said she believes there is a growing realization in the Kremlin of Trump’s severely restricted ability to alter U.S. policy toward Moscow, given the intensity of the scandal around the Russia investigations.

French President Hollande Says French Values Must Be Defended In Cold War Climate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

Hollande Says France Must Defend Values in Cold War Climate

December 31, 2016, 3:03 PM EST
  • Outgoing French president sees democracy, freedom at risk
  • Final New Year’s address targets National Front’s Le Pen

French President Francois Hollande tells the French they have values to defend in the context of a new Cold War — a reference to both geopolitics and the country’s looming presidential election.

“There are moments in history when everything can be toppled. We are living through one of those periods,” Hollande said in a televised speech from Paris. “Democracy, freedom, Europe and even peace — all of these things have become vulnerable, reversible. We saw it with Brexit and with the U.S. election in November.”

Hollande, who came to power in May 2012, bowed out of France’s 2017 presidential race earlier this month, meaning today’s New Year’s eve address to the nation will be his last as head of state. The Socialist leader insisted to French voters that they have a responsibility on the global stage when they cast their ballots.

“France is open to the world, it is European,” Hollande said. “It is not possible to imagine our country crouching behind walls, reduced to its domestic self, returning to a national currency and increasingly discriminating based on peoples’ origins. It would no longer be France. That is what is at stake.”

Those remarks directly targeted the policies of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is committed to pulling France out of the euro, increasing restrictions on immigration, as well as putting up tariff barriers.

“Our main enemy is our doubt. You must have confidence in yourselves,” Hollande said.

Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal.

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John Glenn: A True American Hero: Astronaut, Senator, Dies At 95

 

How John Glenn Became an Astronaut, as Told in 1962

March 2, 1962
Cover Credit: BORIS ARTZYBASHEFFThe March 2, 1962, cover of TIME 
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME MAGAZINE)

The history-making pilot, astronaut and Senator has died at 95

Astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and the third in space, died Thursday. A former U.S. Senator from Ohio, he was 95.

Glenn landed on the cover of the March 2, 1962, issue of TIME after circling the globe three times in 4 hours and 56 minutes—at speeds of more than 17,000 mph—on Feb. 20, 1962.

The achievement came 10 months after Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and made one full orbit around Earth (April 12, 1961) and nine months after Alan Shepard became the first American in space (May 5, 1961), followed by Gus Grissom (July 21, 1961). Thus, his mission was a critical step in the American mission to win the Cold War in space by fulfilling President John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s commitment to “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

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TIME launched its profile of Glenn by pointing out that the grandeur of the undertaking was quite matched by the affect of the man: “In his flight across the heavens, John Glenn was a latter-day Apollo, flashing through the unknown, sending his cool observations and random comments to the earth in radio thunderbolts, acting as though orbiting the earth were his everyday occupation. Back on earth, Glenn seemed to be quite a different fellow—an enormously appealing man, to be sure, but as normal as blueberry pie.”

The Ohio native’s life had indeed started out in complete normalcy: he spent his time playing football and basketball, and reading Buck Rogers. He later joined the Marine Corps, becoming a decorated test pilot and a combat flyer, earning the rank of colonel. (Ted Williams, the legendary Red Sox left fielder who was also a Marine pilot, told TIME, “The man is crazy,” referring to the way he apparently liked to show off his flying skill in dangerous stunts.) But, though his achievements as a pilot were notable, as a career it was still within the range of ordinary.

So how did he get to be an astronaut? TIME explained:

Early in his career, Glenn developed the art of “sniveling.” Explains Marine Lieut. Colonel Richard Rainforth, who flew beside Glenn in both World War II and Korea: “Sniveling, among pilots, means to work yourself into a program, whether it happens to be your job or not. Sniveling is perfectly legitimate, and Johnny is a great hand at it.” In 1957 Glenn sniveled the Marines into letting him try to beat the speed of sound from coast to coast. Flying an F8U, Glenn failed by nine minutes, but he did knock 23 1/2 min. off the coast-to-coast speed record by covering the distance in 3 hr. 23 min. at an average speed of 726 m.p.h.

Then, in 1959, Glenn resolutely set out to snivel his way into the toughest program of all: Project Mercury. He started with two handicaps: he lacked a college degree, and, at 37, he was considered to be an old man. But Glenn managed to get permission to go along as an “observer” with one prime candidate of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics. When the candidate failed an early test, recalls Rainforth, “Johnny stepped up, chest high, and offered himself as a candidate. They took him.”

…Candidate Glenn and 510 others were run through a wringer of mental and physical tests. Doctors charted their brain waves, skewered their hands with electrodes to pick up the electrical impulses that would tell how quickly their muscles responded to nerve stimulation. Glenn held up tenaciously under tests of heat and vibration, did especially well with problems of logical reasoning. Says Dr. Stanley White, a Project Mercury physician: “Glenn is a guy who lives by facts.”

To the surprise of no one who ever knew him, Glenn was one of the seven former test pilots who were picked to become the nation’s first astronauts.

In terms of what it felt like to be in space, he reported “no ill effects at all” from zero gravity and described weightlessness as “something you could get addicted to.” It was also “hot” inside the Friendship 7 capsule at times; at one point, the temperature hit 108º in the cabin. He saw four “beautiful” sunsets and said nightfall in space is akin to nightfall in the desert “on a very clear, brilliant night when there’s no moon and the stars just seem to jump out at you.”

While TIME declared, “Not since Lindy had the U.S. had such a hero”—referring to Charles Lindbergh, who accomplished the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean—Glenn tried to emphasize at a press conference following his splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean that spaceflight still had a long way to go: “If you think of the enormity of space, it makes our efforts seem puny. But these are all step-by-step functions we go through. The manned flights we’ve had to date have added information. This flight, I hope, added a bit more. And there are more to come.”

Read the full cover story, here in the TIME Vault: Spaceman Glenn

Russia’s President Putin’s Aggression In Europe Should Worry Every Russian Citizen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Putin’s aggression in Europe should worry the US

Russia: The biggest issue for the next US president?

Russia: The biggest issue for the next US president? 00:40

Story highlights

  • Richard Shirreff: European security is a matter of American security
  • Putin’s aim is clear: to re-establish Russia as one of the world’s great powers, he says

Gen. Sir Richard Shirreff is a senior British army officer and former deputy supreme allied commander Europe. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Since the formation of NATO in 1949 the defense of Europe and the free world has depended on the absolute certainty that whatever president is occupying the White House, the United States will come to the aid of a NATO member if attacked. Any doubt about the American commitment, and the credibility of NATO’s doctrine of collective defense, is holed below the waterline.

At a time when the West faces a greater threat from a resurgent Russia since the most dangerous crises of the Cold War, NATO, more than ever, needs to stand strong, united and credible.
Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Ukraine in 2014 may have already lit the fuse that could lead to the unthinkable: nuclear war with Russia in Europe.
Consider the words and actions of President Vladimir Putin, who has described the breakup of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geo-strategic tragedy of the 20th century.” In his speech on March 18, 2014, the day Crimea was admitted into the Russian Federation, Putin majored on the threat the West posed to Russia by its continued encirclement and warned about the possibility of push back: “If you compress the spring to its limit, it will snap back hard: something you should remember,” while claiming the right to protect the interests of Russian speakers everywhere, “even if it will worsen our relations with some states.”

Who are Putin's allies?

Who are Putin’s allies?01:40
Overnight, Putin became NATO’s strategic adversary, starting a dynamic that could lead to a clash with NATO over the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (which have significant Russian-speaking minorities).
Two years on and the threat is even greater. Indeed, the ratchet of tension clicks tighter on an almost weekly basis: Even this week we wake up to news of Russia sailing warships near the British coast in “a show of force and a show of capabilities,” according to Peter Felstead, editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly.
Unprecedented levels of military activity on the borders and in the airspace of the Baltic states, Finland and Sweden have been matched by the rapid buildup of military forces in Russia’s Western Military District on the borders of NATO.
For example, in January, Russia announced the formation and deployment of three motor rifle divisions, about 60,000 troops, along the Russian frontier with the Baltic states. And the Russians have kept themselves busy with regular so-called snap exercises to test the readiness of their military, at least one of which was based on a scenario of invasion and occupation of the Baltic states.
Putin’s strategic aim is clear: to re-establish Russia’s status as one of the world’s great powers and to dominate the former republics of the Soviet Union — imperialist intentions that might have been acceptable to great powers in the 19th century but which are an affront in 2016. If the opportunity presents itself, he may well activate long-held plans to march into the Baltic states.

Russian relations with the West at new low

Russian relations with the West at new low 02:29
To paraphrase British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 comment on Czechoslovakia, why are events in these faraway countries of which we may know little important to Americans?
First, because if Russia puts one soldier across the borders of the Baltic states it means war with NATO.
Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have been members of NATO since 2004 and are therefore protected underArticle 5 of the Washington Treaty, the founding document of NATO, which states that an attack on one is an attack on all. A Russian attack on the Baltic states puts America at war with Russia — meaning nuclear war, because Russia integrates nuclear weapons into every aspect of its military doctrine.
And don’t think Russia would limit itself to the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Any form of nuclear release by the Russians would almost certainly precipitate nuclear retaliation by the United States, and the dreadful reality of mutually assured destruction and the end of life as we know it would follow.
Indeed, Russia is at war with America already. Russian hacking of Democratic Party email servers and, if confirmed, WikiLeaks publicizing of Clinton campaign emails to discredit the Democrats and propel Donald Trump — arguably what Putin would classify as a “useful idiot” into the White House — is classic Maskirovka — deception, aimed at undermining the intelligence and integrity of the enemy in a way that remains below the threshold of conventional warfare. In the words of Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, and a man with close connections to the Putin regime, the Kremlin has been at war since 2014.

The Iceland Summit that helped end the Cold War

The Iceland Summit that helped end the Cold War 00:59
But although the clock may be ticking close to midnight, it is not too late. Maintenance of the peace we have enjoyed in Western Europe for nearly 70 years depends on effective deterrence. The bar of risk must be raised too high for Russia to consider any opportunistic move into the Baltic states. This requires forward basing of a credible military capability in the Baltic states and eastern Poland (rather than the token presence agreed at the NATO Warsaw Summit in July).
NATO reserves able to move quickly and effectively to bolster defenses in the Baltics will send a powerful message. It also requires Canada and European members of NATO to recognize that military capabilities lost from cumulative disarmament over the past two decades must be regenerated. This means increasing defense spending, almost certainly above the 2% of gross domestic product agreed — but often not acted upon — by NATO members (less the United States, UK, Estonia and Greece).
2017 is 100th anniversary of the first occasion the United States intervened in one of Europe’s wars. The region’s security is a matter of American security, and it means continued and close engagement in Europe and a continuation of the strong leadership that America has given NATO from the start.
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