WorldWatch

From the November 2014 Trumpet Print Edition

How stable is nuclear-armed Pakistan?

Pakistan’s two leading opposition movements laid aside their differences throughout the second half of August and rallied together. For what purpose? To violently attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government.

Politician Imran Khan and outspoken cleric Tahir ul-Qadri have accused Sharif of corruption and rigging last year’s election. In mid-August, they led tens of thousands of protesters into Islamabad to demand that Sharif step down. The unrest largely incapacitated the capital city for several days at the end of August, as roads closed, businesses lost revenue, and troops and police were deployed to protect government facilities.

In early September, protesters overtook and ravaged the state television headquarters until the army secured the building. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declared the demonstrations a “rebellion against state institutions; … a rebellion against the state of Pakistan.”

The unrest has subsided, but it has still unnerved this country where power often transfers by military coups instead of elections. It has also concerned the international community, in large part because Pakistan possesses more than 100 nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s nuclear warheads are controlled by its military, which is mostly pro-Western. But a collapse of the government could jeopardize the security of these weapons of mass destruction. They could even fall under the control of some of Pakistan’s many Islamist extremist groups. Large numbers of Pakistanis—not only within the population but also in the military and intelligence forces—harbor support for al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden himself built his compound a few hundred yards from the Pakistan Military Academy and lived there for almost a decade.

The precarious status of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons was evident in 2007 and 2008, when Pakistani terrorists carried out attacks at a nuclear missile storage facility, a nuclear airbase and one of the military’s primary armories.

The Trumpet has warned that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall under the control of radical Islamism. In January 2008, editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote, “Pakistan also has the nuclear bomb and could be taken over by radical Islam, with plenty of help from Iran.” This nation, the world’s seventh-strongest military power, could become a “proxy of the Iranian mullahs,” he warned.

During His time on Earth, Jesus Christ specifically warned of the age of nuclear proliferation we live in today. He also said that this time of peril would come immediately before He returns.

Iran quietly arming in Hormuz

Iran’s coastline along the Strait of Hormuz is now bristling with anti-ship missiles and attack vessels including submarines, according to a July 7 Pentagon report.

In the past, Iran has eagerly publicized its military buildups as part of its propaganda. Not so with this militarization, which has been quite secretive. Yet the move has huge implications for nations whose tankers sail through the strait—and for any nation that uses oil, since 40 percent of global seaborne oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz, right past Iranian subs.

The strait is narrow enough that a few sunken tankers and a handful of sea mines could close the sea-lane long enough to blow the cap off oil prices and bring global industry to a screeching halt.

Tehran seems to be arming Hormuz as a means of retaliating against invasion. The Pentagon said the buildup was designed to “deter an attack, survive an initial strike, retaliate against an aggressor and force a diplomatic solution.” It is likely that this measure is part of Iran’s larger calculus of building a nuclear bomb. The mullahs know that once they create a bomb, other nations may respond aggressively. If that happens, Iran will likely use its new bombs, its terrorist proxies, and its weapons in the strait.

Yet another Islamic caliphate

Boko Haram has declared a caliphate in northern Nigeria, according to a video obtained by Agence France Presse on August 24. Amnesty International claims the terrorist group has killed more than 4,000 people this year. In the previous four years, it killed 3,600. The United Nations estimates that the group has forced 650,000 to flee their homes.

Boko Haram gained international notoriety when it kidnapped nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls in April and the world responded with the ineffectual #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign.

Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, declared the caliphate after the group took control of Gwoza, the largest city the group has captured, with a population of more than 250,000. Many inhabitants of Gwoza have fled to the mountains, and in some devastated areas, the terrorists have forcibly prevented residents from burying dead bodies strewn out in the open.

This Islamist group is also expanding its operations in Cameroon. On July 24, militants killed scores of people and kidnapped the vice prime minister’s wife.

Boko Haram has declared independence from Nigeria. It proclaims the rule of Islamism and a bold intent to hold its territory rather than retreating when convenient as it has in the past. Its declaration of a caliphate indicates the group now considers itself strong enough to stand its ground.

This group has links with al Qaeda and support from the Islamic State. Although its so-called state exists far from the oil fields in southern Nigeria, some analysts have said that if it goes international, the group could destabilize more of Nigeria, as well as Cameroon, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and even East Africa.

As the world grapples with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it now has another growing power on its hands. Some observers interpret Boko Haram’s latest video as a declaration of support for the Islamic State and a pledge to join it.

America’s response to these Islamist takeovers in Africa has been mild. Europe is taking the threat far more seriously. The Europeans are already battling radical Islam across North Africa. Continue to watch Boko Haram: The group could open up another front in this war.

Vatican vs. Islamic State—where will this lead?

Pope Francis has condemned the Islamic State with strong language, and some Catholic leaders are explicitly demanding military action against the violent group.

During an August 18 press conference, Pope Francis called for an international effort to “stop” the Islamic State in Iraq. When asked if he approved of America bombing the terrorist group, he replied, “In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say this: It is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underline the verb: Stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means. With what means can they be stopped? These have to be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit.”

Francis said that an alliance of nations should stop the Islamic State. “One nation alone cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor,” he said. “After the Second World War there was the idea of the United Nations. It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is.”

While these statements may not seem very dramatic, they mark a major change for the usually pacifist pope. Many view Francis’s comments as a tacit push for war. Other Catholic leaders have been more straightforward. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the pope’s ambassador to Baghdad, told Vatican Radio that United States President Barack Obama’s decision to bomb Islamic State militants was “something that had to be done.” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, followed that up by telling Vatican Radio, “[M]ilitary action in this moment is probably necessary.” In what could be a related response to the Vatican’s efforts, Germany has agreed to send armaments to Kurdish forces that are fighting the terrorist group.

The Islamic State has taken aim at both Europe and America, but its turn toward Europe is most notable and geopolitically significant. When the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the Islamic State a “caliphate” on June 29, he said, “Rush, O Muslims, to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians and Iraq is not for the Iraqis. … The land is for the Muslims, all the Muslims. … This is my advice to you. If you hold to it you will conquer Rome and own the world, if Allah wills.”

Such braggadocio is sure to have gained the Vatican’s attention. “Rome” is a code word for the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church. As the butchering and pillaging in Iraq continues, and as the radical Islamic threat against Europe grows, the Vatican will marshal its considerable political power and increase its pressure for a violent response. Bible prophecy says that the Vatican, empowered by Germany, will lead a whirlwind response against radical Islam.

How Asian militaries may be catching up to the U.S.

As the U.S. continues making massive cuts in defense spending, Russia and China could be gaining an edge in advanced military technologies, according to an August 13 report by Langley’s Intelligence Group.

Total shortfalls in the U.S. defense budget over the next five to 10 years could reach $1 trillion, the National Defense Panel said July 31. “Today the Department [of Defense] is facing major readiness shortfalls that will … create the possibility of a hollow force that loses its best people, underfunds procurement, and short-changes innovation,” the panel stated.

The cuts are affecting servicemen, aircraft, watercraft and vehicles in all branches of the armed forces. The panel says cuts are also affecting advanced military technologies that have long given U.S. forces battlefield superiority. Langley’s identified these as “robotics for specialized combat duties, the development of next-generation navigation and reconnaissance systems, unmanned mini-submarines and faster helicopters.”

Meanwhile, two of America’s most powerful adversaries, Russia and China, are investing ever larger percentages of their growing gross domestic products into developing advanced military technologies.

In its report called “Looming U.S. Military Cuts Cede Tech Edge to Russia, China,” Langley’s wrote: “[S]hortfalls in defense spending will ripple across all branches of the armed services. What is less obvious are the effects of spending cuts on the military’s ability to maintain its technological edge. … Russia and China are ramping up their considerable scientific expertise from the ground all the way up into space. … [They are] looking for ways to use new technologies to blunt U.S. hegemony in areas of the world they deem of interest.”

It’s true that America spends 2½ times as much on its military as Russia and China combined. Ultimately, America’s problem is less about spending too little on military, and more about a lack of vision regarding how to effectively develop and use its defense forces.

It is intense work being the world’s leading military power. Great effort is required to constantly innovate and develop new technologies that adversaries will not expect. Working toward such developments requires a nation to pour a lot of money into projects that ultimately never work. The effort and waste is exhausting the U.S. military machine.

But powers playing technology catch-up, like Russia and China, only have to copy technologies that have already proven effective. That’s far easier, and far less expensive.

The heart of the problem is America’s lack of will to use its might. National Defense Panel member James Talent said, “[T]he problem isn’t just an administration that acts as if America is weak. The problem is also that America is weak, and becoming weaker, relative to the threats posed by its adversaries—which is the only measurement of military power that really matters. The world will get a lot messier until that changes.”

Drought-induced earthquakes?

Residents of Napa Valley, California, were jolted in their sleep on August 24 by a powerful 6.0 earthquake at 3:20 a.m. The earthquake’s epicenter near American Canyon was 6.6 miles deep between the Hayward Rodgers fault line and the Concord Green fault line. The shaking lasted for 10 to 20 seconds, leading to crushed gas and water lines, power outages, damaged roads, and fires.

This was the largest earthquake in the area since the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which killed more than 60 people, injured over 3,000 others, and buckled the Oakland Bay Bridge.

What caused the most recent earthquake? According to a study published by the science journal Nature in May, geologists believe the lack of water in the San Joaquin Valley is reducing the weight against the San Andreas fault. It is possible this activated a dormant fault line.

Considering California is experiencing a record drought, this conclusion has startling ramifications. How many more faults—both active and dormant—could be on the verge of releasing? Even if the drought doesn’t provoke more earthquakes, falling groundwater levels are causing the ground to sink, becoming a problem for roads and buildings above.

California’s drought is turning into a bigger curse than most people realize.

Asian military cooperation rising

From August 24 to 29, more than 7,000 troops from Russia, China and three central Asian nations assembled for the largest joint military drill ever held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (sco). According to the sco, the exercises were meant to prepare soldiers to protect the region from potential terrorist strikes. But as analyst Matthew Sussex said, “It is kind of rare to have an anti-terrorist mission which uses battle tanks.”

Despite the American administration’s self-proclaimed “pivot to Asia,” the nations of the East view United States political and military power for what it is: an ever-more-hollow shell. Asian leaders know that Americans are war-weary, their policymakers are disunited, and their president has a strategy of grabbing power domestically and relinquishing power internationally.

In response, many Asian countries are rebalancing and realigning themselves. The adjustment is most apparent in the increased military cooperation among them.

As the West has sought to isolate Moscow over the ongoing Ukraine crisis, Russia and China have entered into a new era of unprecedented military cooperation. In May, the two held their first-ever joint naval exercises near Japanese-administered islands at the heart of a China-Japan territorial dispute. The location—not far from the coast of America’s strongest Asian ally—was not arbitrary.

The new golden age of Russia-China military cooperation has also benefited from Moscow’s sudden willingness to share cutting-edge military technology. In late March, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to sell China the S-400 Triumf, a new-generation anti-aircraft weapons system that no other nation has access to.

Japan and India are also aware of America’s eroding influence in Asia, and increasingly wary of China’s rise. Both are impressed by the power and boldness of Putin’s Russia, but also anxious about its ever steeper tilt toward Beijing.

The answer for each, at least in the short term, may be to turn to each other.

On September 1, the two nations signed the first-ever India-Japan defense cooperation agreement. The deal marked a historical change in Asian geopolitics: the first time postwar Japan has entered such an agreement outside its three traditional alliance partners—the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

In July, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe succeeded in changing Japan’s interpretation of its post-World War ii constitution, which had previously limited Japan’s military to strict self-defense inside its immediate territory. The new interpretation allows for “collective self-defense,” allowing Japan to use force to defend its allies under attack. It was this constitutional change that created the opportunity for Japan to enter broader defense agreements, such as this new landmark India-Japan deal.

In January, the Trumpet said Japan, spooked by the unreliability of American security promises and by China’s increasingly belligerent behavior, may start leaning more toward India: “Maybe Tokyo would be able to persuade nations like South Korea, Taiwan or India to form an alliance with Japan to counter the China-Russia axis.” The new defense deal shows that Japan could already be working toward such an alliance.

As the thinness of the American paper tiger becomes increasingly evident, and as Russia and China become more powerful and more aggressive, Asian nations will increasingly work toward gluing their defense strategies together.

Some appear to be digging their heels in, working to build alliances that will protect them from the Moscow-Beijing axis. Others seem to be preparing themselves to be allied with or dominated by that axis. Bible prophecy says that regardless, almost all Asian powers will eventually join together as a gargantuan power bloc under Russia and China.

Polish president gets EU top job

Polish President Donald Tusk will be the next president of the European Union Council, European leaders agreed on August 30. The appointment is a milestone in Poland’s relationship with the EU, marking the first time a Polish leader has received one of Europe’s top jobs. Poland is now firmly at the heart of the EU, on par with long-time members Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

This is a remarkable development, considering Poland’s past with Europe. However, it should come as no surprise to Trumpet readers.

Two decades ago, the Soviet Iron Curtain blocked Poland off from the rest of Europe. Yet even then, Herbert W. Armstrong forecast that Poland would break from Russia and become a core European nation.

“It now looks entirely feasible that Yugoslavia may be included in this revived Roman Empire,” he wrote in the June 1980 Plain Truth, speaking of the developing European superstate. “Also the pope’s native Poland and Romania, and possibly Hungary. Add Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. There will be a union of 10 nations in the general area of the medieval Roman Empire in the new united Europe” (emphasis added).

Two months later, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Will Poland free itself from Soviet domination and join with Yugoslavia, Romania and possibly Czechoslovakia—and with Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Austria—in a resurrected medieval ‘Holy Roman Empire’ to dominate Europe and equal the ussr and the usa in world power?”

Today, all these countries are part of the EU, and Poland is now firmly integrated into this Western bloc, which is led by a Pole.

How did Mr. Armstrong make this remarkable forecast? To learn about its origins in biblical prophecy, read our article “Ukraine Crisis Reveals Europe’s Eastern Leg” (theTrumpet.com/go/11424).