The explosion in the fourth reactor at the nuclear power plant in April, 26, 1986 left swathes of Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus badly contaminated and led to the creation of a no man’s land within a 30-kilometre (19-mile) radius of the station.
Dozens of villages and towns were evacuated, turning the area into a giant reserve unprecedented in Europe by its size.
More than three decades after the incident there has been an influx of visitors to the area, spurring officials to seek official status — and protection — from UNESCO.
– A ‘unique’ chance to save biodiversity –
Since the disaster, the area has become a haven for elk, wolves — and the stocky endangered breed of wild horse native to Asia, Przewalski’s horse.
“Paradoxically, this is a unique opportunity to preserve biodiversity,” Vyshnevsky said.
Under the right conditions, the Ukrainian herd could eventually increase to 300 or even 500 animals, said Sergiy Zhyla, Senior Researcher, Chernobyl Biosphere Reserve.
Researchers at the Prague zoo participating in the conservation efforts now say the global population of Przewalski’s horses has grown to some 2,700.Play VideoWild horses flourish in Chernobyl 35 years after explosionClick to expand
Following the success in Chernobyl, there is discussion over introducing other endangered species to Ukraine’s zone.
Vyshnevsky sees one potential candidate in the European bison — which already roams over the border in Belarus — and discussions are currently underway with the World Wildlife Fund, a global environmental NGO.
“We’ll be able to recreate the landscape that was here before humans began intensely exploiting the region,” he said.
Tokyo — Japan said Tuesday that it would start discharging treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean within two years. Officials in Tokyo said the water would be filtered and diluted to safe levels first, but many residents remain firmly opposed to the plan.
Protesters gathered outside Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s residence in downtown Tokyo to denounce the government’s decision.
More than a million tons of contaminated water is currently being stored at the Fukushima power plant in a massive tank farm big enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The wastewater comes from water pumped in to cool the plant’s damaged reactors and also rain and groundwater that seeps into the facility, which was seriously damaged by the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that ravaged Japan’s northeast coast.
“We can’t postpone a decision on the plan to deal with the… processed water, to prevent delays in the decommission work of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said in October 2020, without commenting directly on the plan or its timing.
On Tuesday, Suga said that after years of study, his scientific advisors had concluded that ocean discharge was the most feasible way to cope with the surplus of contaminated water.
“The International Atomic Energy Agency also supports this plan as scientifically reasonable,” he said.
But the decision to dump Fukushima wastewater into the ocean has drawn fire from neighboring Asian countries and local fishermen along Japan’s coast.
“They told us that they wouldn’t release the water into the sea without the support of fishermen,” Kanji Tachiya, who leads a local cooperative of fisheries in Fukushima, told national broadcaster NHK ahead of the announcement on Tuesday. “We can’t back this move to break that promise and release the water into the sea unilaterally.”
Critics, including Greenpeace nuclear specialist Shaun Burnie, argue that Japan should continue storing the wastewater near the stricken Fukushima plant.
“Deliberately discharging and contaminating the Pacific Ocean after decades of contamination already from the nuclear industry and nuclear weapons testing is just not acceptable,” he said.
The actual release of water from the Fukushima plant will take decades to complete. Critics have called on Japan’s government to at least ensure that independent monitoring is in place to verify the level of radiation in the discharged water is safe for the environment.
Crops grown near the Chernobyl nuclear site in Ukraine are still contaminated with radiation from the explosive 1986 disaster.
In a new study, researchers found that wheat, rye, oats and barley grown in this area contained two radioactive isotopes — strontium 90 and cesium 137 — that were above safe consumption limits. Radioactive isotopes are elements that have increased masses and release excess energy as a result.
“Our findings point to ongoing contamination and human exposure, compounded by lack of official routine monitoring,” study author David Santillo, an environmental forensic scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter, said in a statement, referring to the fact that the government suspended its radioactive goods monitoring program in 2013.
Santillo and his colleagues, in collaboration with researchers from the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology, analyzed 116 grain samples, collected between 2011 and 2019, from the Ivankiv district of Ukraine — about 31 miles (50 kilometers) south of the nuclear plant.
This area is outside of Chernobyl’s “exclusion zone,” which is a 30 mile (48 km) radius around the plant that was evacuated in 1986 and has remained unoccupied. They found radioactive isotopes, predominantly strontium 90, were above safe consumption level in 48% of samples. They also found that wood samples collected from the same region between 2015 and 2019, had strontium 90 levels above the safe limit for firewood.CLOSENuclear Disasters: Chernobyl vs. FukushimaVolume 0% PLAY SOUNDRELATED CONTENT
The researchers believe that the lingering radiation in the wood, in particular, may be the reason for the continued contamination of crops, almost 35 years after the disaster. When analyzing the wood ash from domestic wood-burning ovens, they found strontium 90 levels that were 25 times higher than the safe limit. Locals use this ash, as well as ash from the local thermal power plant (TPP), to fertilize their crops, which continues to cycle the radiation through their soil.
However, computer simulations suggest that it could be possible to grow crops in the region at “safe” levels if this process of repeated contamination ceased. The researchers are now calling for the Ukrainian government to reinstate its monitoring program and create a system for properly disposing of radioactive ash.
“Contamination of grain and wood grown in the Ivankiv district remains of major concern and deserves further urgent investigation,” study author Valery Kashparov, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology, said in the statement. “Similarly, further research is urgently needed to assess the effects of the Ivankiv TPP on the environment and local residents, which still remain mostly unknown.”
The legendary Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), which tracks issues related to technology and global security, has issued a terrifying warning: We are less than two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday clock. It’s very bad news, representing “the most dangerous situation that humanity has ever faced.”
What makes this moment so perilous? The scientists’ statement includes warnings over the cyber-weaponization of information, the spread of artificial intelligence (AI) in making military decisions, the destruction of treaties meant to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, the abandonment of global agreements to limit climate chaos, the spread of genetic engineering and synthetic biology technologies, and more. It does not account for the escalated likelihood of atomic reactor disasters, but based on at least one BAS publication, it should.
Since 1947, this prestigious band of elite scientists and global thinkers has been putting out a “clock” meant to time the peril of a global apocalypse. First issued at the dawn of the Cold War, it has mostly focused on the dangers of atomic warfare. Its countdown to Armageddon has been set as far away as 17 minutes from midnight, a hypothetical time of human extinction. That relatively optimistic assessment came in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the definitive end of the Cold War.
In 2018, the BAS set it at two minutes, the closest to catastrophe it had ever been. They repeated that estimate in 2019. But this year’s announcement has taken us inside the two-minute warning with a hair-raising litany of likely lethal catastrophes set to occur within 100 theoretical seconds.
Donald Trump is mentioned only once by name, in conjunction with his decision to trash the Paris Accords on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The scientists urge “whoever wins the 2020 election” to reinstate the U.S. commitment limiting carbon and other climate-destroying emissions. The BAS also cites Brazilian dictator Jair Bolsonaro for his decision to allow the destruction of the Amazon, with huge impacts on climate.
The BAS strives to maintain a non-partisan image. But Trump’s presence in the White House clearly hangs over any assessment of humankind’s survivability. The specter of his finger on the nuclear, ecological and financial buttons for the next four years hangs over humankind like a pall but goes otherwise unmentioned in this Doomsday assessment.
Also unmentioned is the question of more than 450 atomic power reactors worldwide. A small but vocal outlier coterie has argued that nuclear energy combats global warming by emitting less carbon that coal burners. But the Bulletin recently enshrined a major assessment by the esteemed Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, warning that commercial reactors pose a serious threat to human survival on this planet.
Published in August 2019, “The false promise of nuclear power in an age of climate change” argues that the 450 atomic reactors now deteriorating worldwide pose an existential threat to our survival. Writing with Professor Naomi Oreskes, Lifton warns that atomic energy “is expensive and poses grave dangers to our physical and psychological well-being.” Citing costs of nuclear juice at $100 per megawatt-hour versus $50 for solar and $30-40 for onshore wind, the authors say that the industry suffers from a “negative learning curve,” driving nuke costs constantly higher while those for renewables head consistently down.
Citing the unsolved problem of radioactive waste management, the BAS article warns of the ongoing impacts of major disasters like Fukushima and Chernobyl (and potentially more to come), whose fallout kills humans and does untold damage to the global ecology. Lipton and Oreskes say we need to free ourselves “from the false hope that a technology designed for ultimate destruction” can lead to our salvation. They favor making “renewable energies integral to the American way of life.”
By attacking both science and the fabric of international peace accords, some global leaders have created “a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later.”
That situation includes AI and hypersonic warfare, both escalating “at a frenzied pace.” Now used in ultra-fast attacks, AI is dangerously vulnerable to “hacking and manipulation” while making “kill decisions without human supervision.” In nuclear command and control systems, the BAS warns, research and experience have demonstrated the vulnerability of these systems to “hacking and manipulation.”
This is an absolutely terrifying brew. The spread of disinformation, the contempt for science and expert opinion, the undermining of global agreements on arms control, and climate change are all deadly. Add in the new world of AI and hyper-sonic warfare, then pile on autocrats like Trump and Bolsonaro, and finish with the certainty of more disasters from 450 crumbling, obsolete atomic reactors.
All in all, it’s small wonder the Bulletin has taken us past the two-minute warning. It will clearly take every ounce of our activist strength to save our species from the final
Congress is demanding that the Department of Energy investigate an aging, cracking U.S. nuclear waste dump threatened by climate change and rising seas in the Marshall Islands.
As part of the new National Defense Authorization Act, signed last week by President Trump, the energy agency must submit a report by mid-June on the risks that Runit Dome poses to the people, environment and wildlife of Enewetak lagoon — the site of 44 nuclear bomb detonations during the Cold War.
It must also include an assessment of how climate change could affect the site, although the term “climate change” was dropped as the bill moved through the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is chaired by Oklahoma’s James M. Inhofe, one of Congress’ most outspoken climate change skeptics.
According to the law, the energy agency must submit a report that includes an “assessment of how rising sea levels might affect the dome.”
The investigation was applauded by at least one representative of the Marshall Islands, which continues to contend with the radioactive legacy of U.S. nuclear testing. The island nation sits in a remote part of the central Pacific, 5,000 miles southwest of Los Angeles.
“We are encouraged by the inclusion in the [act] of the requirement,” said Rhea Moss-Christian, chairwoman of the Marshall Islands’ National Nuclear Commission, a three-person government panel that reports directly to the president on nuclear issues in the islands.
She said the original language for the bill, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), required a plan for relocating the waste, as well as an assessment of how local food is affected by the dome.
Moss-Christian said her committee was disappointed these elements were not included in the final version, which the president signed. But she added that she was hopeful the new law “will yield useful results to better inform our decision making.”
There was no immediate response from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which the Energy Department has assigned to monitor Runit Dome and the radiation leaking from it.
The waste site, known alternatively as the Tomb, or simply the Dome, holds more than 3.1 million cubic feet — or 35 Olympic-size swimming pools — of U.S.-produced radioactive soil and debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium.
Nowhere else has the United States saddled another country with so much of its nuclear waste, a product of its Cold War atomic testing program.
From 1946 to 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear bombs on, in and above the Marshall Islands — vaporizing whole islands, carving craters into its shallow lagoons and exiling hundreds of people from their homes.
Department of Energy contractors admitted last spring that the dome is vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm waves, and is leaking into Enewetak lagoon. Studies have shown elevated levels of radioactive contamination in local seafood, including giant clams.
This year, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation of the dome and Enewetak lagoon, revealing that it was the location of at least a dozen biological weapons tests and also the repository for 130 tons of soil from an irradiated Nevada testing site.
The investigation also documented decades of U.S. deception in the Marshall Islands, including the withholding of critical information about people’s exposure to radiation. Thousands of documents about the testing program are still classified, leaving many Marshallese distrustful and unsure about the full impact of U.S. weapons testing there.
For decades, the Marshallese have expressed alarm about Runit Dome and its potential risk to the 650 inhabitants of Enewetak lagoon, who fish and harvest seafood from the lagoon, and collect coconut, pandanus, coconut crabs and breadfruit from islands in the atoll.
In July, a team led by Emlyn Hughes of Columbia University’s K=1 Project — a program designed to investigate nuclear weapons issues across the globe — found elevated levels of radiation on Runit Island.
According to their research, levels were higher than those found emanating from soils near the sites of the Chernobyl meltdown and the Fukushima disaster.
“At last the U.S. government seems to be getting serious about addressing this serious environmental issue that it created decades ago,” said Michael Gerrard, a legal scholar at Columbia University’s law school. “This is a very welcome development.”
It also comes soon after the U.S. announced its intention to extend its Compact of Free Association with the Marshall Islands, which was set to expire in 2023.
The compact, which was initially signed in 1986, provides the Marshallese government with funding, allows its citizens to work and travel in the United States without visas, and provides the U.S. government with a strategic military base on Kwajalein Atoll — the center for U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile testing.
Recently, the United States and another world power have been vying for influence over the Marshall Islands, because of its strategic position in the Pacific.
As China has increased its financial and military presence in the region, the United States has been losing footing with formerly staunch allies, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Many Marshallese argue the U.S. has not done enough to address its history of radioactive contamination in the islands or help the nation deal with the growing assaults of climate change.
A recent general election in the Marshall Islands could determine whether the government develops a closer relationship with China, which has been courting the island nation. The results are still not official, but New Zealand media reported that an opposition slate of candidates is ahead and could triumph over incumbent President Hilda Heine, resulting in policies more favorable to China.
As he refuses to take action to combat the climate crisis, which scientists say is making extreme weather events more intense and devastating, President Donald Trump reportedly suggested deploying America’s vast nuclear arsenal to stop hurricanes from reaching the United States.
Axios reported Sunday that Trump asked, “Why don’t we nuke them?” during a hurricane briefing in the White House.
“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” Trump said, according to Axios, which cited sources who heard the president’s remarks.
“Trump also raised the idea in another conversation with a senior administration official,” Axios reported. “A 2017 NSC memo describes that second conversation, in which Trump asked whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to stop them from hitting the homeland. A source briefed on the NSC memo said it does not contain the word ‘nuclear’; it just says the president talked about bombing hurricanes.”
In a tweet Monday morning, Trump called Axios‘s story “fake news” and said he never raised the idea of bombing hurricanes, which commentators described as “dangerously moronic” and “absolutely nuts.”
Donald J. Trump
The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a page on its website dedicated to addressing the question, “Why don’t we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?”
“During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms,” the page reads. “Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems.”
“Needless to say,” NOAA concludes, “this is not a good idea.”
Environmentalists were quick to ridicule the president’s reported suggestion and demand action to confront the climate crisis and protect vulnerable communities from extreme weather events.
“We cannot believe we have to say this but elected officials should get their climate policy recommendations from frontline communities and science, not the movie Sharknado,” tweeted 350.org. “What if instead of dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes we just passed a Green New Deal and made fossil fuel billionaires pay for the devastation of climate disasters?”
Great Britain is now all indignantly self-righteous and acting shocked and surprised about Iran seizing a British oil tanker.
What did they expect?
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif characterized the seizure of an Iranian super tanker July 4 as “piracy.”
Former Revolutionary Guard commander, Maj. Gen. Mohsen Rezai, wrote that Iran was not seeking conflict, “but we are not going to come up short in reciprocating.”
The Iranian tanker Grace1 was seized by Britain while transiting the Strait of Gibraltar. The British tanker was seized by Iran while transiting the Straits of Hormuz.
So the question must be asked. Why is Great Britain acting so surprised and indignant?
Who is the provocateur here?
And all of this because President Trump did not like the deal Obama made with Iran on the nuclear deal. It was a deal that was working and Iran did not violate that deal. The USA did.
The population of Iran is 81 million people. The population of Great Britain is 66 million. The population of France is 67 million. The population o of Israel is 8.7 million. These three countries have nuclear weapons as does North Korea with a population of 25.5 million.
Why do Western nations with less populations get to possess nuclear weapons yet Iran is expected to remain nuclear free.
Personally I wish all nations were nuclear free but as North Korea has demonstrated the possession of nuclear weapons is a guarantee of security. Iran wants security and the only way to secure that security is by being a nuclear power.
I spent time in Iran in 1969 and again in 1972 while working as a merchant seaman on Norwegian and Swedish ships. I was there when the Shah was the ruler and it was an oppressive regime supported by the United States. In fact I was arrested in 1972 in Abadan on suspicion of being a British spy. I was taking photos in a place I was not supposed to be taking photos of military installations on the Arab Al Shat river. Because my Canadian passport said I was a British subject and Britain was not in favor in Iran at the time. I was questioned briefly, jailed and released.
While there I learned quite a bit about the history of Iran. And it all started as do most issues in the Middle East with oil. Mohammad Mossaddegh as Prime Minister nationalized the Iranian oil industry in 1953, an industry that had been built by the British on Persian lands in 1913 by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company that later became known as British Petroleum (BP)
As a result his government was overthrown in 1953 in a coup d’etat orchestrated by the CIA and MI6
Prime Minister Mosaddegh was the leading champion of secular democracy and resistance to foreign domination. Following a coup by the CIA/MI6-backed General Fazlollah Zahedi, Mosaddegh resigned four days later on 19 August 1953, with Zahedi succeeding him as prime minister.
Mosaddegh was imprisoned for three years, then put under house arrest until his death and was buried in his own home so as to prevent a political furor. In 2013, the U.S. government formally acknowledged the U.S. role in the coup, as a part of its foreign policy initiatives.
The foreign oil companies returned in 1953 and Iran became a dutiful puppet for Western powers under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a harsh autocrat. All democratic opposition was eliminated and driven into exile.
In 1972 I was a witness to the severity of the Shah’s secret police called SAVAK. While being interrogated I saw dissidents being brutalized by SAVAK agents. Thousands were rounded up and made political prisoners. The Muslim clergy were driven into foreign exile.
By 1978, Iran was a powder keg ready to blow after years of corruption by a government backed by the USA and the UK and finally on January 17th, 1979 the revolution led by Ruhollah Khomeini drove the Shah from power and regained control of the oil resources and declared Iran to be the Islamic Republic.
The revolution was quickly followed up by a U.S. and U.K. back Iraqi offensive against Iran that resulted in the Iran/Iraqi war that began in 1980 and lasted until 1988 with over a million casualties.
What was in 1953 a democratic nation was subverted by Great Britain and the USA into an autocratic dictatorship which led directly to that revolution and to the state that presently exists in Iran today. That plus the USA and the UK goading and financing Iraq under Saddam Hussein to invade Iran has led to a complete lack of trust by Iran towards the United States and Great Britain
And now the sabers are rattling again. Iran today however is not Iraq or Afghanistan, Libya or Syria. It is a powerful nation with a strong and well trained military and a war with Iran will be long, vicious, costly and brutal. It will be a conflict that will take the lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides and tens of thousands of civilians. It will be a war that will spill over into the Persian Gulf States, will erupt into new conflicts in Iraq and Syria, will see attacks on Israel and will disrupt commerce in the Middle East to dangerous levels not yet ever experienced.
To continue to provoke Iran makes no sense, politically, militarily or economically. Iran today is what the USA and the UK has made it to be through foolish meddling and interventions.
If this situation continues to escalate, Russia and China will begin to take sides and it is quite possible that Iran has already been provided with or has secured nuclear weapons.
I find it amazing that the British can seize a tanker in international waters and then not expect retaliation in a similar manner.
However I should not be surprised. The history of the involvement of Western powers in the Middle East for the last century has demonstrated over and over again the incredible foolishness of Western involvement in trying to control the people who control the reserves of oil.
What is the solution? The USA needs to honour the Iranian nuclear deal authored by the Obama Presidency. The sanctions need to be lifted and Iran needs to be free to participate on an equal level with other nations.
We live in dangerous times — no doubt about it. How did we get to such a state of affairs where democracy itself is in a very fragile condition and the future of human civilization itself at stake? In this interview, renowned thinker, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona Noam Chomsky, sheds light on the state of the world and the condition of the only superpower left in the global arena.
C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, looking at the current state of the world, I think it is not an exaggeration at all to say that we live in ominously dangerous times — and not simply in a period of great global complexity, confusion and uncertainty, which, after all, has been the “normal” state of the global political condition in the modem era. I believe, in fact, that we are in the midst of a whirlpool of events and developments that are eroding our capacity to manage human affairs in a way that is conducive to the attainment of a political and economic order based on stability, justice and sustainability. Indeed, the contemporary world is fraught, in my own mind at least, with perils and challenges that will test severely humanity’s ability to maintain a steady course toward anything resembling a civilized life.
How did we get to such a state of affairs, with tremendous economic inequalities and the resurgence of the irrational in political affairs on the one hand, and an uncanny capacity, on the other, to look away from the existential crises such as global warming and nuclear weapons which will surely destroy civilized life as we know it if we continue with “business as usual”?
Noam Chomsky: How indeed.
The question of how we got to this state of affairs is truly vast in scope, requiring not just inquiry into the origin and nature of social and cultural institutions but also into depths of human psychology that are barely understood. We can, however, take a much more modest stab at the questions, asking about certain highly consequential decisions that could have been made differently, and about specific cases where we can identify some of the roots of looking away.
The history of nuclear weapons provides some striking cases. One critical decision was in 1944, when Germany was out of the war and it was clear that the only target was Japan. One cannot really say that a decision was made to proceed nevertheless to create devices that could devastate Japan even more thoroughly, and in the longer term threaten to destroy us as well. It seems that the question never seriously arose, apart from such isolated figures as Joseph Rotblat — who was later barred reentry to the U.S.
Another critical decision that was not made was in the early 1950s. At the time, there were still no long-range delivery systems for nuclear weapons (ICBMs). It might have been possible to reach an agreement with Russia to bar their development. That was a plausible surmise at the time, and release of Russian archives makes it seem an even more likely prospect. Remarkably, there is no trace of any consideration of pursuing steps to bar the only weapons systems that would pose a lethal threat to the U.S., so we learn from McGeorge Bundy’s standard work on the history of nuclear weapons, with access to the highest-level sources. Perhaps still more remarkably, there has, to my knowledge, been no voiced interest in this astonishing fact.
It is easy to go on. The result is 75 years of living under the threat of virtually total destruction, particularly since the successful development of thermonuclear weapons by 1953 — in this case a decision, rather than lack of one. And as the record shows all too graphically, it is a virtual miracle that we have survived the nuclear age thus far.
That raises your question of why we look away. I do not understand it, and never have. The question has been on my mind almost constantly since that grim day in August 1945 when we heard the news that an atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima, with hideous casualties. Apart from the terrible tragedy itself, it was at once clear that human intelligence had devised the means to destroy us all — not quite yet, but there could be little doubt that once the genie was out of the bottle, technological developments would carry the threat to the end. I was then a junior counselor in a summer camp. The news was broadcast in the morning. Everyone listened — and then went off to the planned activity — a baseball game, swimming, whatever was scheduled. I couldn’t believe it. I was so shocked I just took off into the woods and sat by myself for several hours. I still can’t believe it, or understand how that has persisted even as more has been learned about the threats. The same sentiments have been voiced by others, recently by William Perry [former defense secretary], who has ample experience on the inside. He reports that he is doubly terrified: by the growing risk of terrible catastrophe, and the failure to be terrified by it.
It was not known in 1945, but the world was then entering into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, in which human activity is having a severe impact on the environment that sustains life. Warnings about the potential threat of global warming date back to a 1958 paper by Hans Suess and Roger Revelle, and by the 1970s, concerns were deeply troubling to climate scientists. ExxonMobil scientists were in the forefront of spelling out the severe dangers. That is the background for a crucial decision by ExxonMobil management in 1989, after (and perhaps because) James Hansen had brought the grave threat to public attention. In 1989, management decided to lead the denialist campaign.
That continues to the present. ExxonMobil now proudly declares that it intends to extract and sell all of the 25 billion barrels in its current reserves, while continuing to seek new sources.
Executives are surely aware that this is virtually a death-knell for organized human society in any form that we know, but evidently it doesn’t matter. Looking away with a vengeance.
The suicidal impulses of the fossil fuel industry have been strongly supported by Republican administrations, by now, under Trump, leaving the U.S. in splendid isolation internationally in not only refusing to participate in international efforts to address this existential threat but in devoting major efforts to accelerate the race to disaster.
It is hard to find proper words to describe what is happening — and the limited attention it receives.
This again raises your question of how we can look away. For ExxonMobil, the explanation is simple enough: The logic of the capitalist market rules — what Joseph Stiglitz 25 years ago called the “religion” that markets know best. The same reasoning extends beyond, for example to the major banks that are pouring funds into fossil fuel extraction, including the most dangerous, like Canadian tar sands, surely in full awareness of the consequences.
CEOs face a choice: They can seek to maximize profit and market share, and (consciously) labor to undermine the prospects for life on earth; or they can refuse to do so, and be removed and replaced by someone who will. The problems are not just individual; they are institutional, hence much deeper and harder to overcome.
Something similar holds for media. In the best newspapers there are regular articles by the finest journalists applauding the fracking revolution and the opening of new areas for exploitation, driving the U.S. well ahead of Saudi Arabia in the race to destroy human civilization. Sometimes there are a few words about environmental effects: fracking in Wyoming may harm the water supplies for ranchers. But scarcely if ever is there a word on the effect on the planet — which is, surely, well understood by authors and editors.
In this case, I suppose the explanation is professionalism. The ethics of the profession requires “objectivity”: reporting accurately what is going on “within the beltway” and in executive suites, and keeping to the assigned story. To add a word about the lethal broader impact would be “bias,” reserved for the opinion pages.
There are countless illustrations, but I think something deeper may be involved, something related to the “religion” that Stiglitz criticized. Worship of markets has many effects. One we see in the origins of the reigning neoliberal faiths. Their origin is in post-World War I Vienna, after the collapse of the trading system within the Hapsburg empire. Ludwig von Mises and his associates fashioned the basic doctrines that were quickly labeled “neoliberalism,” based on the principle of “sound economics”: markets know best, no interference with them is tolerable.
There are immediate consequences. One is that labor unions, which interfere with flexibility of labor markets, must be destroyed, along with social democratic measures. Mises openly welcomed the crushing of the vibrant Austrian unions and social democracy by state violence in 1928, laying the groundwork for Austrian fascism. Which Mises welcomed as well. He became economic consultant to the proto-fascist Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, and in his major work Liberalism, explained that “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”
These themes resonate through the modern neoliberal era. The U.S. has an unusually violent labor history, but the attack on unions gained new force under Reagan with the onset of the neoliberal era. As the business press reported, employers were effectively informed that labor laws would not be enforced, and the U.S. became the only industrial society apart from Apartheid South Africa to tolerate not just scabs, but even “permanent replacement workers.” Neoliberal globalization, precarity of employment, and other devices carry the process of destroying organized labor further.
These developments form a core part of the efforts to realize the Thatcherite dictum that “there is no society,” only atomized individuals, who face the forces of “sound economics” alone — becoming what Marx called “a sack of potatoes” in his condemnation of the policies of the authoritarian rulers of mid-19th century Europe.
A sack of potatoes cannot react in any sensible way even to existential crises. Lacking the very bases of deliberative democracy, such as functioning labor unions and other organizations, people have little choice beyond “looking away.” What can they hope to do? As Mises memorably explained, echoed by Milton Friedman and others, political democracy is superfluous — indeed an impediment to sound economics: “free competition does all that is needed” in markets that function without interference.
The pathology is not new, but can become more severe under supportive social and economic institutions and practices.
Yet, only a couple of decades ago, there was wild celebration among liberal and conservative elites alike about the “end of history,” but, even today, there are some who claim that we have made great progress and that the world is better today than it has ever been in the past. Obviously, “the end of history” thesis was something of a Hegelian illusion by staunch defenders of the global capitalist order, but what about the optimism expressed by the likes of Steven Pinker regarding the present? And how can we square the fact that this liberal optimism is not reflected by any stretch in the politico-ideological currents and trends that are in motion today both inside western nations but also around the world?
The celebrations were mostly farcical, and have been quietly shelved. On the “great progress,” there is serious work. The best I know is Robert Gordon’s compelling study of the rise and fall of American growth, which extends beyond the U.S. though with some modifications. Gordon observes that there was virtually no economic growth for millennia until 1770. Then came a period of slow growth for another century, and then a “special century” from 1870 to 1970, with important inventions ranging from indoor plumbing to electrical grids and transportation, which radically changed human life, with significant progress by many measures.
Since the 1970s the picture is much more mixed. The basis for the contemporary high-tech economy was established in the last decades of the special century, mainly through public investment, adapted to the market in the years that followed. There is currently rapid innovation in frills — new apps for iPhones, etc. — but nothing like the fundamental achievements of the special century. And in the U.S., there has been stagnation or decline in real wages for non-supervisory workers and in recent years, increased death rates among working-class, working-age whites, called “deaths of despair” by the economists who have documented these startling facts, Anne Case and Angus Deaton.
There is more to say about other societies. There are numerous complexities of major significance that disappear in unanalyzed statistical tables.
Realism, crystallized intellectually by Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince,has been the guiding principle of nation-states behind their conduct of international relations from the beginning of the modem era, while idealism and morality have been seen as values best left to individuals. Is political realism driving us to the edge of the cliff? And, if so, what should replace the behavioral stance of governments in the 21st century?
The two major doctrines of International Relations Theory are Realism and Idealism. Each has their advocates, but it’s true that the Realists have dominated: the world’s a tough place, an anarchic system, and states maneuver to establish power and security, making coalitions, offshore balancing, etc.
I think we can put aside Idealism — though it has its advocates, including, curiously, one of the founders and leading figures of the modern tough-minded Realist school, Hans Morgenthau. In his 1960 work, The Purpose of American Politics, Morgenthau argued that the U.S., unlike other societies, has a “transcendent purpose”: establishing peace and freedom at home and indeed everywhere. A serious scholar, Morgenthau recognized that the historical record is radically inconsistent with the “transcendent purpose” of America, but he advised that we should not be misled by the apparent inconsistency. In his words, we should not “confound the abuse of reality with reality itself.” Reality is the unachieved “national purpose” revealed by “the evidence of history as our minds reflect it.” What actually happened is merely the “abuse of reality.” To confound abuse of reality with reality is akin to “the error of atheism, which denies the validity of religion on similar grounds.”
For the most part, however, realists adhere to Realism, without sentimentality. We might ask, however, how realistic Realism is. With a few exceptions — Kenneth Waltz for one — realists tend to ignore the roots of policy in the structure of domestic power, in which, of course, the corporate system is overwhelmingly dominant. This is not the place to review the matter, but I think it can be shown that much is lost by this stance. That’s true even of the core notion of Realism: security. True, states seek security, but for whom? For the general population? For the systems of power represented by the architects of policy? Such questions cannot be casually put aside.
The two existential crises we have discussed are a case in point. Does the government policy of maximization of the use of fossil fuels contribute to the security of the population? Or of ExxonMobil and its brethren. Does the current military posture of the U.S. — dismantling the INF Treatyinstead of negotiating disputes over violations, rushing ahead with hypersonic weapons instead of seeking to bar these insane weapons systems by treaty, and much else — contribute to the security of the population? Or to the component of the corporate manufacturing system in which the U.S. enjoys comparative advantage: destruction. Similar questions arise constantly.
What should replace the prevailing stance is government of, by and for the people, highlighting their concerns and needs.
The advent of globalization has been interpreted frequently enough in the recent past as leading to the erosion of the nation-state. Today, however, it is globalization that is being challenged, first and foremost by the resurgence of nationalism. Is there a case to be made in defense of globalization? And, by extension, is all nationalism bad and dangerous?
Globalization is neither good nor bad in itself. It depends how it is implemented. Enhancing opportunities for ideas, innovations, aesthetic contributions to disseminate freely is a welcome form of globalization, as well as opportunities for people to circulate freely. The WTO system, designed to set working people in competition with one another while protecting investor rights with an exorbitant patent regime and other devices, is a form of globalization that has many harmful consequences that would be avoided in authentic trade agreements designed along different lines — and it should be borne in mind that much of the substance of the “free trade agreements” is not about free trade or even trade in any meaningful sense.
Same with nationalism. In the hands of the Nazis, it was extremely dangerous. If it is a form of bonding and mutual support within some community it can be a valuable part of human life.
The current resurgence of nationalism is in large part a reaction to the harsh consequences of neoliberal globalization, with special features such as the erosion of democracy in Europe by transfer of decision-making to the unelected Troika with the northern banks looking over their shoulders. And it can and does take quite ugly forms — the worst, perhaps, the reaction to the so-called “refugee crisis” — more accurately termed a moral crisis of the West, as Pope Francis has indicated.
But none of this is inherent in globalization or nationalism.
In your critiques of U.S. foreign policy, you often refer to the United States as the world’s biggest terrorist state. Is there something unique about the United States as an imperial state? And is U.S. imperialism still alive and kicking?
The U.S. is unique in many respects. That includes the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, “We the People,” a revolutionary idea, however flawed in execution. It is also a rare country that has been at war almost without a break from its first moment. One of the motives for the American Revolution was to eliminate the barrier to expansion into “Indian country” imposed by the British. With that overcome, the new nation set forth on wars against the Indian nations that inhabited what became the national territory; wars of “extermination,” as the most prominent figures recognized, notably John Quincy Adams, the architect of Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile half of Mexico was conquered in what General U.S. Grant, later president, called one of the most “wicked wars” in history.
There is no need to review record of interventions, subversion and violence, particularly since World War II, which established the U.S. in a position of global dominance with no historical precedent. The record includes the worst crime of the postwar period, the assault on Indochina, and the worst crime of this millennium, the invasion of Iraq.
Like most terms of political discourse, “imperialism” is a contested notion. Whatever term we want to use, the U.S. is alone in having hundreds of military bases and troops operating over much of the world. It is also unique in its willingness and ability to impose brutal sanctions designed to punish the people of states designated as enemies. And its market power and dominance of the international financial system provide these sanctions with extraterritorial reach, compelling even powerful states to join in, however unwillingly.
The most dramatic case is Cuba, where U.S. sanctions are strongly opposed by the entire world, to no avail. The vote against these sanctions was 189-2, U.S. and Israel, in the latest UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] condemnation. The sanctions have been in place for almost 60 years, harshly punishing Cubans for what the State Department called “successful defiance” of the U.S. Trump’s sanctions on Venezuela have turned a humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe, according to the leading economist of the opposition, Francisco Rodriguez. His sanctions on Iran are quite explicitly designed to destroy the economy and punish the population.
This is no innovation. Clinton’s sanctions on Iraq (joined by Blair) were so destructive that each of the distinguished international diplomats who administered the “oil for food” program resigned in protest, charging that the sanctions were “genocidal.” The second, Hans-Christof von Sponeck, published a detailed and incisive book about the impact of the sanctions (A Different Kind of War). It has been under a virtual ban. Too revealing, perhaps.
The brutal sanctions punished the population and devastated the society, but strengthened the tyrant, compelling people to rely on his rationing system for survival, possibly saving him from overthrow from within, as happened to a string of similar figures. That’s quite standard. The same is reportedly true in Iran today.
It could be argued that the sanctions violate the Geneva Conventions, which condemn “collective punishment” as a war crime, but legalistic shenanigans can get around that.
The U.S. no longer has the capacity it once did to overthrow governments at will or to invade other countries, but it has ample means of coercion and domination, call it “imperialism” or not.
Why is the United States the only major country in the world displaying consistently an aversion to international human rights treaties, which include, among many others, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)?
The U.S. almost never ratifies international conventions, and in the few cases where it does, it is with reservations that exclude the U.S. That’s even true of the Genocide Convention, which the U.S. finally did ratify after many years, exempting itself. The issue arose in 1999, when Yugoslavia brought a charge of war crimes to the ICJ [International Court of Justice] against NATO. One of the charges was “genocide.” The U.S. therefore rejected World Court jurisdiction on the grounds that it was not subject to the Genocide Convention, and the Court agreed — agreeing, in effect, that the U.S. is entitled to carry out genocide with impunity.
It might be noted that the U.S. is currently alone (along with China and Taiwan) in rejecting a World Court decision, namely, the 1986 Court judgment ordering the U.S. to terminate its “unlawful use of force” against Nicaragua and to pay substantial reparations. Washington’s rejection of the Court decision was applauded by the liberal media on the grounds that the Court was a “hostile forum” (New York Times), so its decisions don’t matter. A few years earlier the Court had been a stern arbiter of Justice when it ruled in favor of the U.S. in a case against Iran.
The U.S. also has laws authorizing the executive to use force to “rescue” any American brought to the Hague — sometimes called in Europe “the Hague Invasion Act.” Recently it revoked the visa of the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC [International Criminal Court] for daring to consider inquiring into U.S. actions in Afghanistan. It goes on.
Why? It’s called “power,” and a population that tolerates it — and for the most part probably doesn’t even know about it.
Since the Nuremberg trials between 1945-49, the world has witnessed many war crimes and crimes against humanity that have gone unpunished, and interestingly enough, some of the big powers (U.S., China and Russia) have refused to support the International Criminal Court which, among others things, can prosecute individuals for war crimes. In that context, does the power to hold leaders responsible for unjust wars, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression hold promise in the international order of today?
That depends on whether states will accept jurisdiction. Sometimes they do. The NATO powers (except for the U.S.) accepted ICJ jurisdiction in the Yugoslavia case, for example — presumably because they took for granted that the Court would never accept the Yugoslavian pleas, even when they were valid, as in the case of the targeted destruction of a TV station, killing 16 journalists. In the more free and democratic states, populations could, in principle, decide that their governments should obey international law, but that is a matter of raising the level of civilization.
John Bolton and other ultranationalists, and many others, argue that the U.S. must not abandon its sovereignty to international institutions and international law. They are therefore arguing that U.S. leaders should violate the Constitution, which declares that valid treaties are the supreme law of the land. That includes in particular the UN Charter, the foundation of modern international law, established under U.S. auspices.
A 1,000-acre patch of southeast New Mexico desert may offer a temporary solution to the nation’s longstanding nuclear waste problem.
Thirty-five miles out of Carlsbad, in the pancake-flat desert of southeast New Mexico, there’s a patch of scrub-covered dirt that may offer a fix — albeit temporarily — to one of the nation’s most vexing and expensive environmental problems: What to do with our nuclear waste?
Despite more than 50 years of searching and billions of dollars spent, the federal government still hasn’t been able to identify a permanent repository for nuclear material. No state seems to want it.
So instead, dozens of states are stuck with it. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, a still-radioactive byproduct of nuclear power generation, is spread across the country at power plants and sites in 35 states.
The issue has dogged politicians for decades. Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently described the situation as a “logjam.” But some hope that this remote, rural corner of New Mexico may present a breakthrough.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering a proposal by Holtec International, a private U.S.-based company, to build a massive consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel on that patch of desert. It could eventually hold up to 100,000 metric tons of the material, storing it until a permanent repository is found.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed interim nuclear storage facility in southeast New Mexico.
Courtesy of Holtec International
The bid has support from a group of local officials, drawn by the promise of tax revenues, high-paying jobs and a stable source of income.
The same appears to be true in Washington, D.C., where lawmakers are anxious to find a solution and have indicated an openness to change laws, making it easier for private companies to manage nuclear fuel.
But familiar challenges persist.
A broad coalition of local and national groups opposes the plan, as does the state’s new governor. They’re worried about transporting the nuclear waste and the environmental impacts of storing it.
“Why should we be the ones to take this negative project on and put up with the consequences?” says Rose Gardner, a florist who lives 35 miles from the proposed site. “We didn’t get any of the nuclear generated electricity. We’re not even involved.”
Rose Gardner, a vocal opponent of Holtec’s proposal, doesn’t see why her small, rural corner of New Mexico should take on the nation’s nuclear waste.
In 1982 Congress got involved, passing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which called for the development of repositories for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel.
Five years later, it narrowed those efforts, focusing on a single area 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas: Yucca Mountain.
The federal government has spent billions of dollars assessing the viability of a deep underground storage facility there. For decades, Yucca looked like the destination for nuclear waste.
A map of current storage sites for high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel in the U.S.
Department of Energy
But efforts to move that project forward were stifled by local opposition. Stuck at an impasse, and under pressure from then-Senate Majority Leader and Nevadan Harry Reid, the Obama administration scrapped funding for the site in 2009.
The Trump administration has called for funding to revive the Yucca Mountain project, but local resistance remains and Nevada lawmakers have dug in their heels.
In the meantime, spent nuclear fuel continues to build up at scores of power plants around the country, at facilities that weren’t designed to store it.
The problem with this is two-fold.
For one, it’s expensive. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act said that the Department of Energy would find a permanent home for utilities’ nuclear waste by 1998. It didn’t. So now, the Department of Energy pays utility companies more than $2 million a day to store that nuclear waste on-site. That’s taxpayer money.
The other problem is public safety.
More than 1 in 3 Americans lives within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, according to Columbia University. Many of those plants are now storing spent nuclear fuel on coastlines or near rivers, areas that are more prone to flooding and natural disasters.
The shuttered San Onofre power plant is one of California’s two nuclear power plants located near active earthquake faults. Spent nuclear fuel is being stored there currently.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
“There’s no question, from a safety perspective, from a risk perspective, from an economic perspective, consolidated interim storage makes a lot of sense,” says John Heaton, a former New Mexico state legislator who’s part of a group trying to bring the facility to the state. “We’re in a seismically stable, dry place. It’s more or less a perfect site.”
A “consent-based” approach
In 2010, fresh off its decision to end funding for Yucca Mountain, the Obama administration commissioned a blue ribbon panel to look at America’s nuclear waste problem.
One of its top recommendations was to authorize and establish consolidated interim storage facilities. But to avoid another-Yucca like impasse, it also recommended using a new “consent-based approach” when finding a location.
“We believe this type of approach can provide the flexibility and sustain the public trust and confidence needed to see controversial facilities through to completion,” the report said.
But figuring out how to define that consent, and then getting it from various communities, industries and interests, will be difficult.
Ranchers and dairy producers in New Mexico worryabout what impact the Holtec facility would have on their industry, real or perceived. There’s a fear that consumers wouldn’t want to buy beef or milk from a place that’s also home to the nation’s biggest collection of nuclear material.
There are also concerns from some in the region’s biggest industry: oil and gas. The proposed site is in the Permian Basin, one of the busiest oil fields in the world.
Drilling rigs and pump-jacks dot the desert of the Permian Basin, where Holtec is proposing to build the interim nuclear storage facility.
“I understand we have to solve this problem,” says Tommy Taylor, director of oil and gasdevelopment at Fasken Oil and Ranch, a Texas-based company with wells near the proposed site. “[But] don’t put this in an oil field. That’s a bad idea. Certainly not the biggest oil field the United States has.”
Taylor feels the same way about another proposed interim storage facility in the Permian Basin, near the Texas-New Mexico border. That proposal, by Texas-based Waste Control and Storage Services, is also being considered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“My specialty is drilling wells,” Taylor says. “We use the best technology we have, the best materials we can get, and the best tools. And even though you’re trying to do the best you can — still, things happen.”
The companies behind both proposals insist that the projects would be safe. Advocates for the Holtec proposal say that the amount of radiation coming off of one of the storage containers the company plans to use is about the same as a microwave.
“This isn’t some Homer Simpson green sludge that’s going to leak out and who know’s what’s going to happen, people with three-eyes and that sort of thing,” says Jason Shirley, a Carlsbad City Council member, who was skeptical himself before seeing a video of a Holtec storage container surviving a mock missile strike. “When I’m able to explain this and educate people, they support it.”
A “missile test” of Holtec’s storage canisters.
Nuclear Energy Institute viaYouTube
“It won’t go.”
Thirty-five miles from the patch of desert Holtec wants to turn into an interim storage facility, and about 5 miles from a Texas company’s proposed site, is the boom-or-bust town of Eunice, N.M.
Pump-jacks bob among the houses, and the streets are jammed with traffic from the surrounding oil fields.
Down a quiet side street, Rose Gardner, an opponent ofboth proposals, is taking three grandchildren for a walk.
“We know it’s supposed to be consent-based,” she says. “They’re not getting consent. The actual people aren’t for it. And without community support, it won’t go.”
“I’ve got three little babies here and nobody’s speaking up for them,” says Rose Gardner, who’s worried about what the proposed facility would mean for her grandchildren’s future.
There is a history here, though, of nuclear projects that she’s well aware of.
Twenty years ago, nearby, the U.S. government built the country’s only deep-underground storage facility for radioactive material, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project. It’s designed to store lower-level nuclear waste from research laboratories and weapons facilities around the country.
A similar debate played out before the construction of that facility. Supporters touted the jobs and income it would bring. Opponents worried about safety. And there havebeen issues.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is mindful of those and is unequivocal in her feelings about Holtec’s proposal.
“There’s nobody that’s been able to demonstrate to me that there isn’t risk here,” she says. “There is risk. We need to be clear about that. I don’t think it’s the right decision for the state.”
Back at the proposed site for Holtec’s interim storage facility, a sign lies on its side, uprooted from the ground and punctured with bullet holes.
Asked if it should be seen as an indication of the plan’s local support, former state legislator John Heaton laughs.
“You know how it is in the Wild West,” he says. “People with guns can’t resist putting holes in any sign anywhere.”
A sign at the proposed interim nuclear storage site lies on its side and is riddled with bullet holes.
The funeral of a man killed when Indian soldiers fired mortar shells into the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir. At least two Pakistani soldiers and two civilians were killed in renewed fighting across the disputed border.CreditAmiruddin Mughal/EPA, via Shutterstock
— Intense shelling erupted along the disputed border between India and Pakistan on Saturday, killing several civilians and making it clear that hostilities between the two nuclear-armed nations were hardly over — only a day after Pakistan handed over a captured Indian fighter pilot in what it called a “good-will gesture.”
At least five civilians and two soldiers were killed, according to officials on both sides.
At the same time, independent security analysts continue to questionIndia’s claims this past week that it had killed “a very large number” of terrorists at a major training camp in a cross-border airstrike. The bold strike set off an enormous mobilization of Indian and Pakistani forces and a cycle of military attacks, bringing South Asia to red alert.
Michael Sheldon, a researcher at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, said on Saturday that after studying satellite imagery of the area in Pakistan that India had bombed, he could see “no evidence any buildings were hit.” He added, “It appears to me they didn’t hit their targets.”
Instead, he said, all publicly available evidence and accounts from witnesses on the ground indicated that the Indian bombs had landed in an unpopulated forest and had taken out some pine trees. He set out his argument in an online article titled “Surgical Strike in Pakistan a Botched Operation?”
The administration of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who faces an election in a few months, had presented the airstrike as a robust response against a terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, that claimed responsibility for a devastating suicide bombing in February that killed more than 40 Indian troops.
Why Do India and Pakistan Keep Fighting Over Kashmir?
A simple guide to the roots of the conflict and what could happen next.
The troops were part of a large convoy crossing Kashmir, a highly militarized mountainous territory claimed by both India and Pakistan and the source of violent tensions between the two countries for years. Indian officials have declined to offer any photographs, witness accounts or other tangible evidence that their airstrike on Tuesday killed a large number of terrorists.
But they remain adamant that the Pakistani government has allowed anti-India militant groups to operate in Pakistan, which officials there deny. Indian officials have said that the target of their airstrike was a hilltop training center run by Jaish-e-Mohammed near the town of Balakot in northern Pakistan.
They told reporters that no structures were damaged during the Indian airstrike and that the only person hurt was a 62-year-old man who suffered a small cut above his eye. The villagers led reporters to several large holes in the ground in the forest, where they said the bombs fell.
Western intelligence officials say that militant groups in Pakistan still provide material support and expertise, such as bomb-making skills, to insurgents fighting Indian rule in the Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir.
On Wednesday, Pakistan mobilized its air force and shot down an Indian fighter jet above Kashmir, capturing the pilot. On Friday, Pakistan released the pilot, Wing Cmdr. Abhinandan Varthaman, calling it a gesture to ease tensions.
The prospect of a major conflict erupting between India and Pakistan, which was a real fear just a few days ago, may have receded somewhat. But this region remains jittery. On Saturday, United Airlines rerouted some of its flights from India, citing concerns about the airspace.
Residents said the artillery battle that raged on Saturday was much heavier than usual, with both sides pounding each other’s positions for hours.
“The shells are landing everywhere,” said Najeeb Ahmad, a primary-school teacher who lives on the Indian side of the disputed border, called the Line of Control.
The funeral in Srinagar, Kashmir, on Saturday, of two Indian paramilitary troops killed in a gunfight.CreditTauseef Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Along the border, artillery exchanges break out all the time and large rounds continually sail over the troops dug in on each side and crash into nearby villages, maiming and killing civilians.
Every night, villagers crawl into bunkers and huddle together, waiting for the intense pounding to stop. Sometimes, there is no place to hide. The people who live along the border say their continued existence is now purely up to the soldiers’ mood.
Mr. Ahmad, the teacher, said an artillery shell from the Pakistani side had smashed into a house where a woman was living with her two children. “They were sleeping in the kitchen,” he said. “All of them died.”
Both India and Pakistan accused the other of firing first.
Pakistani military officials said on Saturday that they had lost two soldiers, and that two civilians in the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan were killed by Indian shelling. A Pakistani military statement said its troops then gave “a befitting response.”
Pakistan has also threatened to lodge a formal complaint against India at the United Nations, accusing it of “eco-terrorism” over the bombs that damaged several pine trees.
A peacemaking plea urging both sides to quit fighting was published as a letter in one of India’s leading newspapers and signed by more than 600 scholars, lawyers, scientists, writers and actors.
“Even a limited confrontation would resolve nothing,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, the climate of jingoism that tends to develop around this sort of situation is obscuring these simple truths.”
Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar reported from New Delhi, and Sameer Yasir from Baramulla, Kashmir. Salman Masood contributed from Islamabad, Pakistan.