Pairing athletes with military veterans just makes sense. Both have a team mentality, dedication to their uniform and all the meaning associated with it, and — most importantly — a deep connection to their fellow teammates. It may (or may not) surprise some to learn that making film and television is very much a team sport as well. The cast and crew have to operate in tandem and rely on one another for success. Physical fitness is also a very important aspect to all three lifestyles.
So, it makes sense that movie stars are getting into the latest social media trend: push-ups for veterans.
In 2015, FOX NFL insider Jay Glazer created the nonprofit Merging Vets and Players to match separated combat veterans and former professional athletes to help the vets deal with transitioning out of their old team — the U.S. military — and into civilian life. He wanted to show that the country cared about what happens to them when the uniform comes off, that the skills they picked up in service to the United States are still applicable in their new lives, and that professional athletes could help show them their true potential.
Glazer was soon joined by Nate Boyer, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and player for both the Texas Longhorns and Seattle Seahawks who is very active in the veteran community. He believes the two worlds have a lot in common.
“Both war fighters and football players need something to fight for once the uniform comes off, and your service to country or time on the field is over,” Boyer says. “Without real purpose for the man on your right and left, it can be easy to feel lost.”
With Glazer’s access to the world of the NFL and its players combined with Boyer’s impeccable credentials in the military-veteran community and unique knowledge of the struggles returning veterans face, the nonprofit offers peer support between the athletes and veterans, as well as physical training and challenges at locations across America.
One of those challenges recently caught on with another group: movie stars. Glazer challenged all the members of his elite LA-based training center, Unbreakable Performance, to a 25 push-up challenge. For every member who publicly posts their 25 push-ups, TV personality and NFL alum Michael Strahan will donate fitness equipment to Merging Vets and Players. It immediately got a response.
Chris Pratt, star of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World was challenged by Strahan specifically. He answered the call, then challenged Jack Ryan star, John Krasinski, who challenged both Captain America Chris Evans and The Rock to pump out 25 for Merging Vets and Players.
They both did their 25. In the days that followed, Pratt’s Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Dave Bautista answered the call, as did Caleb Shaw, and Sylvester Stallone. Recently challenged stars include Mark Walhberg, LeBron James, and even Snoop Dogg.
The 25 push-up challenge didn’t stop with celebrities, though. Veterans who follow Merging Vets and Players, as well as MVP alumni, are also posting their 25 push-up challenge videos on Instagram and Twitter.
The McCurtain County VA Clinic and members of the local community gathered in Idabel, Oklahoma to celebrate World War II veteran Sydney Hunnicutt’s 102nd birthday.
“We truly care about the veterans in our community and we just want to make a difference,” said Lisa Morphew, registered nurse and clinic manager. “We love our veterans and want to show them that we’re here to help, whatever their needs are.”
VA clinic staff presented birthday cards and Jonathan Plasencia, associate director for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, presented a gift bag to Hunnicutt on behalf of VA Voluntary Service.
Twelve of Hunnicutt’s family members were able to attend the party including several who were visiting from California. Dorothy Cash, Hunnicutt’s daughter, said she was grateful to the clinic and community who helped make the day special for her father.
Jonathan Plasencia shakes Sydney Hunnicutt’s hand.
“It means the world to us,” said Cash.
During World War II, Hunnicutt was drafted into the U.S. Army and deployed to the Philippines with the 63rd Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division. During the Battle of Luzon, Hunnicutt fought the Japanese and was shot in his left hand. He lost two fingers and was later awarded a Purple Heart.
“It’s an honor to be here today to celebrate a member of the Greatest Generation,” said Plasencia, who drove from the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee to celebrate Hunnicutt’s milestone. “Veterans have many options for their health care and when they place their trust in VA, that is a privilege we do not take lightly.”
“It couldn’t have been better,” said Hunnicutt, who turns 102 on July 13, 2019.
Clinic staff join Sydney Hunnicutt for his 102nd birthday celebration.
Hunnicutt has been a patient at the clinic since it opened in 2017, and Dr. Jose Gomez has served as his primary care physician.
“He is so happy,” said Cash. “Dr. Gomez has been the best.”
Dr. Gomez said it’s been a privilege to provide care for Hunnicutt.
“I want to thank him for his courage and for putting his life on the line for us to be able to have the freedoms that we have,” he said. “It’s an honor just to shake his hand.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
China continues to emerge as the most dynamic region for defense program development and introductions among the superpowers. In October 2018, photos of their aircraft carrier development and preparations for ongoing sea trials have surfaced; their advanced interceptor claiming to have low-observable capability has reemerged with a new camouflage scheme in an operational unit; they have flown a new long range flying boat amphibious aircraft and shown a new armed, long range remotely piloted aircraft. There are even frequent reports (some of those have been denied already) of a new low-observable strategic heavy bomber ahead of the U.S. unveiling of their new B-21 Raider long range stealth bomber.
All of this new development continues the conversation about China expanding military ambitions beyond their borders in regions such as Africa, the Middle East, and even South and Central America. These ambitions add to their ongoing power projection in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.
Perhaps the most significant development is the potential return to a strategic nuclear role for the PLAAF, China’s air force. China’s air delivered nuclear capability has reportedly advanced recently after it was abandoned in the 1980s when China only had air delivered nuclear gravity bombs.
In a Sept. 6, 2018 feature on TheDiplomat.com, analysts Ankit Panda and Prashanth Parameswaran reported that, “The PLAAF once again has a nuclear mission, although we don’t know what that is”. The analysts suggested that an air launched ballistic missile may be an emerging technology China is developing. The missile, thought to be a new version of the CJ-20K long range cruise missile, currently has the capability to strike targets at a range of 1,080 nautical miles (2,000 kilometers) with a conventional warhead after being launched from China’s legacy Xian H-6K heavy bomber.
For the first time ever in early May 2018, the PLAAF flew Xian H-6K heavy bombers to the disputed Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago. The Paracel archipelago, also called “Xisha” by the Chinese, is a disputed chain of low-lying islands in the South China Sea. Although China has maintained a military presence there since 1974 when they forcibly evicted Vietnam, the Taiwanese and Vietnamese both still lay claim to the islands. A Pentagon statement from U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said the May landing of Chinese heavy bombers in the island chain is evidence of “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea.”
China’s Navy Deploys New H 6J Anti Ship Cruise Missile Carrying Bombers
The 2018 edition of China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong, will take place from Nov. 6-11, 2018. Photographers already at the show venue have shared a feast of interesting images in social media including photos of the Chengdu J-20A “Mighty Dragon” in a completely new operational camouflage scheme.
The Chengdu J-20As seen at the show are claimed “fifth generation” twin engine, single seat air superiority fighters with a distinctive canard, delta wing and twin tail configuration. They are reported to be operated by the172th Brigade based at the FTTB (Airbase) at Cangzhou according to expert analyst Andreas Rupprecht who maintains the Modern Chinese Warplanes page on Facebook and publishes a series of authoritative reference guides about Chinese military aircraft (and many others) through Harpia Publishing.
Several J-20A Mighty Dragons arrived ahead of the Zhuhai Airshow with brand new paint schemes.
(Hunter Chen Photos via Twitter and Facebook)
Rupprecht noted that two of the J-20A aircraft wore serial numbers 78231 and 78232. He also pointed out that the aircraft previously had an angular “splinter” style camouflage scheme but now have a new, rounded pattern camouflage livery.
In conjunction with the timing of the Zhuhai Airshow, Rupprecht’s Harpia Publishing has just released their latest reference book, “Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Air Force – Aircraft and Units”.
Other unique aircraft photographed arriving at Zhuhai for the 2018 China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition include a unique J-10B prototype aircraft number ‘1034’ modified to with a special thrust vectoring engine nozzle. The modification is likely a test version according the Andreas Rupprecht that has been retrofitted onto the existing WS-10 jet engine.
A unique new version of the J-10B with thrust vectoring arrived at Zhuhai Airshow early this week.
(Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook photos)
China’s naval aviation program also arcs forward into a rapidly developing and ambitious future with their aircraft carriers. On Oct. 28, 2018, the new, unnamed Type 002 aircraft carrier sailed away from its construction and maintenance facility at Dalian, China for its third sea trial. Andreas Rupprecht observed on his Modern Chinese Warplanes page on Facebook (Author’s note: this page is worth “Liking”) that the ship’s flight deck had been cleaned and possibly prepared for flight deck trials during this current shakedown cruise.
Of equal interest is a photo that surfaced on Google Earth that is only a few weeks old, taken on Sept. 22, 2018, showing the two Chinese aircraft carriers sitting side-by-side in their maintenance and construction yard in Dalian. Dalian is a modern, rapidly growing port city on the Liaodong Peninsula, at the southern tip of China’s Liaoning Province.
Two Chinese carriers in the Dalian Shipyard.
(Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook photos)
Video of the new AVIC AG600 Kunlong flying boat making its first ever waterborne take-off and landing were posted to YouTube on Oct. 20, 2018. The impressive four-engine turboprop aircraft is intended for the long range maritime patrol, reconnaissance, search and rescue mission. It is said to be capable of operating in sea state 3 conditions, or waves as high as 6.6-feet (2 meters). With its projected range of 2,796 miles (4,500 km), the AG600 flying boat can reach the contested islands in the outlying regions of China’s sea.
Aerial view: China’s AG600 amphibious aircraft makes maiden flight from water
In addition to global power projection in their own interests, an aim of China’s emerging new military aviation push is the export market. In early October 2018, the sale of 48 new Wing Loong II armed, remotely piloted aircraft to Pakistan was announced.
According to analyst Shaurya Karanbir Gurung of India’s Economic Times in a story published on Oct. 10, 2018, “The Wing Loong II is an improved version of the Wing Loong 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Falling in the category of Medium Altitude Long Endurance, it is manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company. The UAV has been developed primarily for People’s Liberation Army Air Force and export. The concept of the Wing Loong II was unveiled at the Aviation Expo China in Beijing in September 2015.”
All About Wing Loong II: Pakistan’s New Drone From China | Urdu | Hindi |
And finally, and perhaps most interestingly, news about an entirely new, long range low observable Chinese heavy bomber has surfaced. According to some reports, the program is claimed to be significantly advanced in its development. The Hong-20 is tipped as China’s new long-range strategic stealth bomber. Official Chinese media has released concept images of the aircraft after teasing shapes earlier in the year in what appeared to be a direct parody of a video touting the upcoming U.S. bomber, the B-21 Raider.
A rendering of what China claims is the new Hong-20 low-observable long range bomber.
(Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook photos)
Defense World.net reported that, “The Hong-20 official unveiling could be slated for next month’s Zhuhai Air show though there is no confirmation of it as yet.” The report went on to reveal that Russian media outlet Rossiyskaya Gazeta claimed the Hong-20 bomber has been under development at the Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute in China since 2008.
Conceptual artwork from earlier this year of new Hong-20 low-observable long range bomber.
(Andreas Rupprecht/Rupprecht_A on Twitter)
Many casual observers of China’s defense and aviation programs have been cynical of China’s ability to produce truly advanced high-end, reliable new military technologies that may compete with western technology. Because of lingering dogma about China’s mass manufacturing being comprised largely of knock-offs from western technology mimicked quickly at lower cost and lower quality by legions of near-slave laborers, this mistaken stereotype has lingered. Anyone who has visited China recently knows this country has vaulted into a new era of economic, technological and now, military development. Given that China is the country that invented gunpowder and revolutionized warfare, any country that underestimates China’s new capabilities does so at their own peril.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
The final trailer for “IT: Chapter Two” has dropped and along with highlighting the return of Pennywise, it makes the killer clown’s mission abundantly clear: He wants revenge on the Losers’ Club.
The two-and-a-half-minute preview opens with a grown-up Mike (played by Isaiah Mustafa), the lone member of the club to stay in Derry, saying that he remembers “all of it.” We then see a man drowning in the sewers crying out for help, only to be “rescued” by an eager Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgård).
We then see the reunion of the Losers’ Club, who are told by Mike that Pennywise is back. He also reminds them of the oath they all took as kids to take down their tormentor if he ever returned. In case there were any doubts about Mike’s claim, Bill (played by James McAvoy) gets a horrific glimpse of the demonic force at a carnival, as Pennywise threatens to trap a young boy who may be Bill’s son.
The frightening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the trailer, with Pennywise declaring his desire to get back at the group that stopped him.
“For 27 years, I dreamt of you,” Pennywise says. “I craved you. I missed you.”
His statement clearly sets the stage for a showdown between Pennywise and the Losers’ Club. Fortunately, the gang appears every bit as determined to face-off against their nemesis.
“We need to finish it,” Bill says. “For good.”
Pennywise spends the rest of the trailer scaring the shit out of the group, including Richie (played by Bill Hader) and Beverly (played by Jessica Chastain). If this is any indication, the IT sequel is looking like it will be even more devastating than the original, with Pennywise determined to raise as much Hell as possible.
“IT: Chapter Two” comes to theaters Sept. 6, 2019.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died in March 2013, the government there declared its intention to have the body embalmed and put on permanent display. It was to be preserved and placed in La Planicie Barracks, a military museum near Venezuela’s presidential palace, Miraflores. Unfortunately for Venezuela’s Chavistas, the body decayed much too quickly and had to be interred instead.
No matter what people in other countries may think of Chavez, the Venezuelans mourned Chavez for seven days and staged an elaborate state funeral. His body laid in state for public visitation before being buried. The Venezuelan president was not the first world leader whose body was to be embalmed and displayed for posterity. Many have come before him, mostly dictators. You can be your own judge of whether Chavez belongs in that group while you’re planning your world tour to visit these others (who most definitely are in that group) preserved for the world to see.
1. Vladimir Lenin, Russia – Died January 21, 1924
Lenin changed the 20th century and beyond with the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II and the founding of the Soviet Union. He set Russia on the path from being beaten up by any emerging world power (looking at you, Japan) to being one of two countries to ever be considered a superpower. The “Red Terror” under his reign is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of Russians. Still, after his 1924 death, his body was encased in glass and set up in Moscow’s Red Square where it lies today.
2. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam – Died September 2, 1969
Ho Chi Minh is the founder of the People’s Republic of Vietnam. Many in our audience may know Ho Chi Minh as a “son of a bi*ch” with “the blue balls, crabs, and the seven-year itch.” Before the war in Vietnam, however, Ho fought with the OSS against Japanese occupation in Indochina and expected an independent Vietnam after WWII. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson during his Independence Day speech to millions of Vietnamese onlookers.
Ho is also responsible for purges of non-communist members of the Viet Minh who helped bring him to power, as well as an estimated 173,000 killings during Vietnamese land reforms. He ruthlessly put down peasant rebellions and tortured and killed political enemies. His body lies in state in a granite mausoleum modeled after Lenin’s in Hanoi.
3. Mao Zedong, China – Died September 9, 1976
The only question left about Chairman Mao is how many people really died as a result of his leadership. From the Chinese Civil War to the Long March to the Cultural Revolution to the Great Leap Forward, Mao is estimated to be responsible for upwards of 78 million Chinese deaths. Mao Zedong is literally the worst thing to happen to humanity in all of human history.
His remains are in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, across from the Forbidden City, which is iconically adorned with a large painting of his image.
4. Ferdinand Marcos, Philippines – Died September 28, 1989
Marcos served first in the Philippines’ House of Representatives and then in the Senate before being elected President in 1966. He was re-elected in 1969, just one year later a tide of unrest washed over the island nation. Marcos responded by declaring martial law and beginning a rule by decree. For over twenty years, Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines like a king. His armed forces brutally suppressed dissent. He imprisoned tens of thousands of political opponents and Marcos himself embezzled state funds for personal use.
A contested election in 1983 turned from a transition of power into a revolution. Supporters of opposition leader Corazon Aquino, the wife of assassinated anti-Marcos Senator Benigno Aquino, took to the streets of Manila and began to occupy government buildings and broadcasters. Marcos, under advice from the White House, fled to Hawaii, where he died in exile. His embalmed body lies in a refrigerated crypt at the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in the Philippine city of Batac.
5. Kim Il-Sung, North Korea – Died July 8, 1994
The founder of North Korea and Korean War aggressor Kim Il-Sung died in 1994 after 46 years of unchallenged rule. Technically, he is still the president, as he was granted the title of “Eternal President” by constitutional amendment after his death. The regime even instituted a new “Juche” calendar beginning with the year 1912, the year of Kim’s birth.
His body is draped in a Korean Worker’s Party flag at the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang. He is expertly angled so the massive, baseball-sized calcium deposit on his neck is not visible to the general public.
6. Kim Jong-Il, North Korea – Died December 17, 2011
Kim took over for his father in 1994, right after his death. North Korea thus became the first secular, Communist dictatorship with a line of hereditary succession. The younger Kim ruled for just under 20 years, dying in 2011 of a suspected heart attack while berating subordinates over the construction of a power plant.
Kim Jong-Il’s reign oversaw some of the worst years of the North Korean regime, including the disastrous four-year famine that killed upwards of 3.5 million people. As a result, he is often depicted in North Korean artwork with waves from a stormy sea crashing on rocks, symbolic of his “stoicism” in weathering the storms. He is also at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.
BONUS (Not a Dictator): Pope John XXIII, Vatican City – Died June 3, 1963
Pope John XXIII was not a dictator, really. Not in the accepted sense of the term, although the Pope does have nearly-autocratic rule in the Vatican (the Holy See is his religious jurisdiction, as a head of state, he oversees the Vatican City). Unlike the aforementioned dictators, this Pope has a history of liberalizing the Church, focusing on human rights and the needs of the poor. While officials were moving his body out of a Vatican crypt, they popped open his coffin and found him very well-preserved. He is now coated with a thin layer of wax and is on display at St. Peter’s Square.
In his early career before becoming Pope, John worked to help refugees (mostly Jewish) flee the Nazis. He intervened directly numerous times to ensure the safe passage of Jewish people out of Europe. His Papacy began on October 28, 1959 as he oversaw the Church’s recognition of the Jewish people as faithful and apologized for anti-Semitism on the behalf of the history of the Catholic Church.
We’ve all seen the surprise homecomings at baseball games, school gymnasiums and countless other places. But never before have we seen one like this: a Fort Bragg soldier surprised his family at the State of the Union address, and President Trump was in on it.
President Trump remarked, “War places a heavy burden on our Nation’s extraordinary military families, especially spouses like Amy Williams from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and her two children: 6-year-old Elliana and 3-year-old Rowan.” Amy, seated next to First Lady Melania Trump, stood up with her kids to be recognized as President Trump continued.
“Amy works full time and volunteers countless hours helping other military families,” he explained. “For the past seven months, she has done it all while her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Townsend Williams, is in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment to the Middle East.”
“Amy’s kids haven’t seen their father’s face in many months. Amy, your family’s sacrifice makes it possible for all of our families to live in safety and in peace and we want to thank you. Thank you, Amy.”
Amy was immediately given a standing ovation while she looked as though she was simply trying to hold it all together. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, President Trump said, “But Amy, there is one more thing.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said April 22, 2018, that he is bringing a living tribute to “Devil Dog” Marines who fell in the World War I battle of Belleau Wood to the White House as a symbol of the two nations’ enduring ties.
The oak sapling from the battle site will be presented to President Donald Trump in hopes that it will be planted in the White House garden, Macron said in an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” program from the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Macron arrives in the U.S. April 23, 2018, on a three-day visit that is expected to focus on the way forward in Syria following the April 13, 2018 missile strikes, and on France’s concern that Trump may pull the U.S. out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to halt Iran’s nuclear programs.
“Retreat? Hell, we just got here”
The battle of Bois de Belleau, or Belleau Wood, about 60 miles north of Paris near the Marne River in the Champagne region, has entered Marine Corps lore. It’s best known among Marines as the place where they were first called “Devil Dogs” for their fierce defense in June 1918, that blunted the German spring offensive.
A dispatch from the German front lines to higher headquarters described the Americans blocking their way and mounting counter-offensives as fighting like “Teufel Hunden,” or “Hounds of Hell.”
At one point, French forces moving to the rear to regroup urged the Marines to join them. The response from a Marine, attributed to either Capt. Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, or Maj. Frederic Wise, was, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
(Illustration by Georges Scott)
Once they consolidated their positions, the Marines would attack six times through mustard gas and withering machine-gun fire before the Germans were driven from the wood. An estimated 2,000 Marines were killed.
An official German report later described the Marines as “vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen.”
Army Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, marveled at the tenacity of the “Devil Dogs” of Belleau Wood in a quote that has also become part of the Marine legend.
“The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle,” Pershing said.
He added that, “the battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy” to that time.
The oak sapling Macron will give to Trump was taken from a site near the so-called “Devil Dog Fountain,” where U.S. troops gathered after the battle of Belleau Wood. The fountain’s spout is in the shape of the head of a bull mastiff.
(Photo by G.Garitan)
The gift of the sapling is not the first time Macron has sought to firm up relations with a world leader by playing to their affections for the armed forces and military pageantry.
During a state visit to China early 2018, Macron gave Chinese President Xi Jinping a horse from the elite French Republican Guard. Macron had remembered that Xi was impressed with his official escort of 104 horsemen during a visit to Paris in 2014.
July 2017, in Paris, Trump was similarly impressed by the military formations and fly-bys at the annual Bastille Day Parade. The parade in France was believed to have been a factor in Trump’s decision to order a military parade in Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day 2018.
Trumps, Macrons to dine at Mount Vernon
On April 23, 2018, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will join Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a private dinner at the historic Mount Vernon, Virginia, estate of George Washington. Macron will also address Congress and attend an official state dinner at the White House.
Although they have had differences on climate change, tariffs, and Syria, Macron said he was committed to working with Trump and he sidestepped the possible repercussions from the long-running special counsel investigation swirling around the White House.
“I never wonder [about] that,” Macron said of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. “I mean, I work with him. I work with him because both of us are very much at the service of our country on both sides,” Macron said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Here, in this office, I’m not the one to judge and in certain way, to explain to your people what should be your president,” Macron said. “I’m here to deal with the president of the United States. And people of the United States elected Donald Trump.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.
Why did they do this?
The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised.
Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria.” Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region.”
Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution.
Swiss officer barracks in the Umbrail Pass during World War I.
In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality.
In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings.
You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident.
So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting?
Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact.
As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people.
Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.
In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.)
As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million.
In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind).
This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise.
After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency.
Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War.
Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence.
Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion).
Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations.
As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1.
WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways.
Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them).
But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders.
More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.)
The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria.
Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains.
Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country.
Large-scale construction of hangers were conducted by the Swiss military in the 1950s.
With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did.
It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area.
As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape.
Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defenses, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them.
As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”.
In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions.
In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.
As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription.
But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.
Shortly before WW2, Switzerland passed the Swiss Banking Act, which allowed bank accounts to be created anonymously, in no small part to allow German Jews to squirrel their liquid assets away into accounts that the Third Reich would have difficulty finding out about or getting access to.
The term “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by United States soldiers after WWII. The soldiers had trouble pronouncing the original name of “Schweizer Offiziersmesser” (Swiss Officer’s Knife) and thus began calling the multi-tool a “Swiss Army Knife”. The company that makes Swiss Army Knives is Victorinox, named after the founder, Karl Elsener’s, deceased mother, Victoria. The “nox” part comes from the fact that stainless steel is also known as “inox”, which is short for the French term “inoxydable”.
Karl Elsener himself was originally the owner of a surgical equipment company. He later took over production of the original Modell 1890 knives, which were previously made in Germany. He moved the production to Switzerland and greatly improved the design of the original multi-tool. His big breakthrough came when he figured out a way to put blades on both sides of the handle using the same spring to hold both sides in place. This allowed him to put twice as many features into the multi-tool as was previously possible.
There has been a “fact” floating around that Switzerland has the highest number of guns per citizen and the lowest rate of people killed by firearms per year, but this isn’t correct. Switzerland is actually 4th in number of guns per 100 people (at 45.7 guns per 100), though does maintain a relatively low number of deaths per year due to firearms at just 3.84 per 100,000, which is good enough for 19th place overall. However, it should also be noted that 3.15 of those deaths per 100,000 are suicide. Their homicide rate (.52 per 100,000) is good enough for 31st place, with the rest of deaths from firearms (.17 per 100,000) being either accidental or undetermined.
While the United States has by far the most guns per capita at 94.3 guns per 100 residents, it is only 12th in firearm related deaths per capita at 10.3 per 100,000 people. 6.3 of those 10.3 firearm related deaths are suicides. This equates to the U.S. being in 14th place on the number of firearm related homicides per 100,000 and overall 103rd as far as total murders per 100,000 at 4.8. For reference, that’s four times the murders per 100,000 than the United Kingdom, which sits in 169th place in murders per 100,000.
Number 1 by far in firearm related deaths per 100,000 is Honduras with 64.8 deaths per 100,000 from firearms. Surprisingly, Honduras only has 6.2 guns for every 100 people in the country. Honduras also has the highest rate of murders per 100,000 overall at 91.6.
On average, more people commit crimes in Switzerland who aren’t Swiss citizens than who are every year, which has very recently led to harsher deportation laws. In fact, of the top 25 nationalities to commit crimes in Switzerland, 21 of them commit more crimes than the Swiss while on Swiss soil, with the average of all those immigrants being 390% more crimes than are committed by Swiss citizens. Immigrants specifically from Austria, France, and Germany to Switzerland, however, commit an average of only 70% of the crimes the Swiss do on Swiss soil.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war against Germany and entered World War I. Since August 1914, the war between the Central and Entente Powers had devolved into a bloody stalemate, particularly on the Western Front. That was where the U.S. would enter the engagement.
How prepared was the country’s military to enter a modern conflict? The war was dominated by industrially made lethal technology, like no war had been before. That meant more death on European battlefields, making U.S. soldiers badly needed in the trenches. But America’s longstanding tradition of isolationism meant that in 1917 U.S. forces needed a lot of support from overseas allies to fight effectively.
In Europe, American combat troops would encounter new weapons systems, including sophisticated machine guns and the newly invented tank, both used widely during World War I. American forces had to learn to fight with these new technologies, even as they brought millions of men to bolster the decimated British and French armies.
Engaging with small arms
In certain areas of military technology, the United States was well-prepared. The basic infantrymen of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were equipped with the Model 1903 Springfield rifle. Developed after American experience against German-made Mausers in the Spanish American War, it was an excellent firearm, equal or superior to any rifle in the world at the time.
With far more soldiers than supplies of modern machine guns, the U.S. Army had to adopt several systems of foreign design, including the less-than-desirable French Chauchat, which tended to jam in combat and proved difficult to maintain in the trenches.
Meeting tank warfare
American soldiers fared better with the Great War’s truly new innovation, the tank. Developed from the need to successfully cross “No Man’s Land” and clear enemy-held trenches, the tank had been used with limited success in 1917 by the British and the French. Both nations had combat-ready machines available for American troops.
Instead, U.S. ground forces used 239 of the French-built versions of the tank, as well as 47 British Mark V tanks. Though American soldiers had never used tanks before entering the war, they learned quickly. One of the first American tankers in World War I was then-Captain George S. Patton, who later gained international fame as a commander of Allied tanks during World War II.
Also new to Americans was poison gas, an early form of chemical warfare. By 1917 artillery batteries on both sides of the Western Front commonly fired gas shells, either on their own or in combination with other explosives. Before soldiers were routinely equipped with gas masks, thousands died in horrific ways, adding to the already significant British and French casualty totals.
Scientists on both sides of the war effort worked to make gas weapons as effective as possible, including by devising new chemical combinations to make mustard gas, chlorine gas, phosgene gas and tear gas. The American effort was substantial: According to historians Joel Vilensky and Pandy Sinish, “Eventually, more than 10 percent of all the chemists in the United States became directly involved with chemical warfare research during World War I.”
Blinded by German tear gas, British soldiers wait for treatment in Flanders, 1918.
(British Army photo)
Naval power for combat and transport
All the manpower coming from the U.S. would not have meant much without safe transportation to Europe. That meant having a strong navy. The U.S. Navy was the best-prepared and best-equipped of all the country’s armed forces. For many years, it had been focusing much of its energy on preparing for a surface naval confrontation with Germany.
A German submarine surrenders at the end of World War I.
In May 1917, the British Royal Navy pioneered the convoy system, in which merchant ships carrying men and materiel across the Atlantic didn’t travel alone but in large groups. Collectively protected by America’s plentiful armed escort ships, convoys were the key to saving Britain from defeat and allowing American ground forces to arrive in Europe nearly unscathed. In fact, as military historian V.E. Tarrant wrote, “From March 1918 until the end of the war, two million U.S. troops were transported to France, for the loss of only 56 lives.”
A U.S. Navy escorted convoy approaches the French coast, 1918.
(US Navy photo)
Taking to the skies
Some of those Americans who made it to Europe climbed above the rest – right up into the air. The U.S. had pioneered military aviation. And in 1917, air power was coming into its own, showing its potential well beyond just intelligence gathering. Planes were becoming offensive weapons that could actively engage ground targets with sufficient force to make a difference on the battlefield below.
An American-painted British-made Sopwith Camel in France, 1918.
Despite often lacking the weapons and technology required for success, it was ultimately the vast number of Americans – afloat, on the ground and in the air – and their ability to adapt and use foreign weapons on foreign soil that helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte followed through on numerous threats to end his country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the US on Tuesday, notifying Washington of his intent to withdraw, triggering a 180-day countdown.
On Friday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said he thought the two sides could reach a political resolution, but recent history suggests the pact’s demise could be an opportunity for China in a strategically valuable region.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has repeatedly criticized the US and US officials. The US, which ruled the Philippines as a colony in the first half of the 20th century, remains close with the Philippines and is very popular there — as is Duterte, who had 87% approval in December.
But the Philippine president nevertheless decided to end the VFA, with his spokesman saying it was “time we rely on ourselves” and that the country “will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country.”
While President Donald Trump said he didn’t “really mind,” the US Embassy in the Philippines said it would “carefully consider how best to move forward,” and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it was “a move in the wrong direction.”
Asked on Friday about the decision, McCarthy touted US-Philippine ties.
Washington and Manila have “a long history” of working “very hard together” and of “very strong” military-to-military relations, McCarthy told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. “We have about 175 days to work through this diplomatically. I think we can drive forward to an end state that will work out for all of us politically.”
The US and the Philippines are also bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, but ending the VFA would undercut those and the legal standing US forces have when in the Philippines.
The latter effect would endanger hundreds of military exercises and other military cooperation. US Special Forces troops have been stationed in the Philippines to help fight ISIS-linked militants, and the US military has trained there with other countries in the region. The Philippines has also hosted US troops deployed as part of Pacific Pathways, which is meant to allow US and forces in the region to build stronger partnerships and readiness.
Asked about the effect of the VFA withdrawal on US basing and training, McCarthy said Friday that “conversations are underway” particularly among the White House and State Department.
“The VFA, by changing that would change basically the freedoms that you have to do the training,” McCarthy said, “but this is a very close ally, and we would work through that, but it’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through.”
There a number of reasons the VFA may ultimately survive. Philippine military and security forces value the relationship, under which they receive military assistance, training, education, and weapons.
Philippine officials have suggested a need to review the VFA “to address matters of sovereignty” but have stopped short of advocating withdrawal. Duterte’s foreign secretary also indicated on Tuesday that the announcement should be seen as a jumping-off point for such negotiations, saying “other reactions have been idiotic.”
But it’s not the first time the Philippines has pulled out of this kind of deal. In 1991, it did not renew a mutual basing agreement, leading to the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific, and the withdrawal of US forces.
Manila “quickly discovered that after it did that it was rendered largely defenseless with its limited military capabilities, and China actually started taking very bold actions in the South China Sea, including the occupation of the Mischief Reef,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat, said on The Diplomat podcast.
“We’re now left in a situation where we’re not just hypothetically talking about what might happen,” Parameswaran added. “We actually have a historical record about what happens when the alliance goes through periods like this.”
Duterte has won concessions on other issues by pushing on Washington, Parameswaran said, calling a similar outcome this time the “optimistic scenario,” but in light of the impulsiveness of both Duterte and Trump, there remains “an element of risk.”
Agreements like the VFA take time to negotiate and ratify — after ending the basing agreement in 1991, the two countries weren’t able to establish the VFA until 1998 — and other countries in the region, like Australia and Japan, can’t replace US military assistance to the Philippines, leaving Manila weaker in the face of Chinese ambitions.
“That is the big, worrying scenario about Day 181,” Parameswaran said, “because the Philippine military, it’s building up in terms of its capabilities, but it’s still one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific, and that’s going to be laid bare on Day 181 if this doesn’t get sorted out.”
The US Navy deployed two carrier strike groups to the Mediterranean Sea to send an unmistakable message to Russia.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS John C. Stennis and their escort ships began dual carrier operations in the region April 23, 2019, the US Navy said in a statement. The combined force includes more than 130 aircraft, 10 ships and 9,000 sailors and Marines, a force that no other power has the ability to bring together.
USS John C. Stennis.
(US Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur)
In addition to the carrier, a strike group typically includes a guided-missile cruiser, two to three guided-missile destroyers, an attack submarine, and a supply ship.
The last time two carriers operated in the region simultaneously was in 2016, when the Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman carrier strike groups were deployed to the Mediterranean.
Current operations are being conducted alongside allies and partners in the region.
“In the era of great power competition, particularly in the maritime domain, one carrier strike group provides tremendous operational flexibility and agility,” Adm. James Foggo III, the head of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy, said.
“Two carrier strike groups operating simultaneously, while also integrating and advancing interoperability with our highly capable NATO allies and partners, provides an unprecedented deterrent against unilateral aggression, as well as combined lethality,” he added. “It also should leave no doubt to our nation’s shared commitment to security and stability in the region.”
Standing on the bridge of the USS Abraham Lincoln, he stressed that “we are not going to be deterred by any potential adversary and we are going to support our interests as Americans and also those of our allies as we steam throughout the world,” CNN reported.
USS Abraham Lincoln.
(US Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur)
Russia has steadily expanded its military presence in the Mediterranean since 2015, when the Russian military joined forces with Damascus in Syria.
Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to Russia, said that the carriers, each of which represents “100,000 tons of international diplomacy,” are intended to send a message. “Diplomatic communication and dialogue coupled with the strong defense these ships provide demonstrate to Russia that if it truly seeks better relations with the United States, it must cease its destabilizing activities around the world.”
“When you have 200,000 tons of diplomacy that is cruising in the Mediterranean — this is what I call diplomacy, this is forward operating diplomacy — nothing else needs to be said,” Huntsman added, according to CNN.
“You have all the confidence you need to sit down and try to find solutions to the problems that have divided us now for many, many years.”
Russian media accused the US military and the ambassador of unnecessary “saber-rattling” near Russia’s “doorstep.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
As the US, Russia and China test each other’s patience and strategic focus, speculation about the chances of a world war has hit a new high. But many of the people seriously engaged in this weighty discussion often get it wrong.
When it comes to estimating military capability, the Western media is principally concerned with the weapons capabilities of weaker states – and it rarely pays much attention to the colossal capability of the US, which still accounts for most of the world’s defense spending.
Any sensible discussion of what a hypothetical World War III might look like needs to begin with the sheer size and force of America’s military assets. For all that China and Russia are arming up on various measures, US commanders have the power to dominate escalating crises and counter opposing forces before they can be used.
Take missile warfare alone. The US Navy already has 4,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the Navy and Air Force are currently taking delivery of 5,000 JASSM conventional cruise missiles with ranges from 200-600 miles. Barely visible to radar, these are designed to destroy “hardened” targets such as nuclear missile silos. Russia and China, by contrast, have nothing of equivalent quantity or quality with which to threaten the US mainland.
The same holds true when it comes to maritime forces. While much is made of Russia’s two frigates and smaller vessels stationed off the Syrian coast, France alone has 20 warships and an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean – and US standing forces in the area include six destroyers equipped with scores of cruise missiles and anti-missile systems. At the other end of Europe, the Russian military is threatening the small Baltic states, but it is rarely noted that the Russian Baltic fleet is the same size as Denmark’s and half the size of Germany’s.
A U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber.
Meanwhile, China’s aggressively expansionist behaviour in the South China Sea is reported alongside stories of its first aircraft carrier and long-range ballistic missiles. But for all that the Chinese navy is large and growing, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, it’s still only numerically equivalent to the combined fleets of Japan and Taiwan, while the US boasts 19 aircraft carriers worldwide if its marine assault ships are included.
But overhanging all this, of course, is the nuclear factor.
Out of the sky
The US, Russia and China are all nuclear-armed; Vladimir Putin recently unveiled a new fleet of nuclear-capable missiles which he described as “invincible in the face of all existing and future systems”, and some have suggested that China may be moving away from its no-first-use policy. This is all undeniably disturbing. While it has long been assumed that the threat of nuclear weapons acts as a deterrent to any war between the major powers, it’s also possible that the world may simply have been riding its luck. But once again, the US’s non-nuclear capabilities are all too often overlooked.
US leaders may in fact believe they can remove Russia’s nuclear deterrent with an overwhelming conventional attack backed up by missile defences. This ability was cultivated under the Prompt Global Strike programme, which was initiated before 9/11 and continued during the Obama years. Organised through the US Air Force’s Global Strike Command, it is to use conventional weapons to attack anywhere on Earth in under 60 minutes.
This is not to say the task would be small. In order to destroy Russia’s nuclear missiles before they can be launched, the US military would need to first blind Russian radar and command and communications to incoming attack, probably using both physical and cyber attacks. It would then have to destroy some 200 fixed and 200 mobile missiles on land, a dozen Russian missile submarines, and Russian bombers. It would then need to shoot down any missiles that could still be fired.
Russia is not well positioned to survive such an attack. Its early warning radars, both satellite and land-based, are decaying and will be hard to replace. At the same time, the US has and is developing a range of technologies to carry out anti-satellite and radar missions, and it has been using them for years. (All the way back in 1985, it shot down a satellite with an F15 jet fighter.) That said, the West is very dependent on satellites too, and Russia and China continue to develop their own anti-satellite systems.
The air war
Russia’s bomber aircraft date back to the Soviet era, so despite the alarm they provoke when they nudge at Western countries’ airspace, they pose no major threat in themselves. Were the Russian and US planes to face each other, the Russians would find themselves under attack from planes they couldn’t see and that are any way out of their range.
US and British submarine crews claim a perfect record in constantly shadowing Soviet submarines as they left their bases throughout the Cold War. Since then, Russian forces have declined and US anti-submarine warfare has been revived, raising the prospect that Russian submarines could be taken out before they could even launch their missiles.
The core of the Russia’s nuclear forces consists of land-based missiles, some fixed in silos, others mobile on rail and road. The silo-based missiles can now be targeted by several types of missiles, carried by US planes almost invisible to radar; all are designed to destroy targets protected by deep concrete and steel bunkers. But a problem for US war planners is that it might take hours too long for their missile-carrying planes to reach these targets – hence the need to act in minutes.
A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
One apparently simple solution to attacking targets very quickly is to fit quick nuclear ballistic missiles with non-nuclear warheads. In 2010, Robert Gates, then serving as secretary of defence under Barack Obama, said that the US had this capability. Intercontinental ballistic missiles take just 30 minutes to fly between the continental US’s Midwest and Siberia; if launched from well-positioned submarines, the Navy’s Tridents can be even quicker, with a launch-to-target time of under ten minutes.
From 2001, the US Navy prepared to fit its Trident missiles with either inert solid warheads – accurate to within ten metres – or vast splinter/shrapnel weapons. Critics have argued that this would leave a potential enemy unable to tell whether they were under nuclear or conventional attack, meaning they would have to assume the worst. According to US Congressional researchers, the development work came close to completion, but apparently ceased in 2013.
Nonetheless, the US has continued to develop other technologies across its armed services to attack targets around the world in under an hour – foremost among them hypersonic missiles, which could return to Earth at up to ten times the speed of sound, with China and Russia trying to keep up.
The remainder of Russia’s nuclear force consists of missiles transported by rail. An article on Kremlin-sponsored news outlet Sputnik described how these missile rail cars would be so hard to find that Prompt Global Strike might not be as effective as the US would like – but taken at face value, the article implies that the rest of the Russian nuclear arsenal is in fact relatively vulnerable.
Starting with the “Scud hunt” of the First Gulf War, the US military has spent years improving its proficiency at targeting mobile ground-based missiles. Those skills now use remote sensors to attack small ground targets at short notice in the myriad counter-insurgency operations it’s pursued since 2001.
If the “sword” of Prompt Global Strike doesn’t stop the launch of all Russian missiles, then the US could use the “shield” of its own missile defences. These it deployed after it walked out of a treaty with Russiabanning such weapons in 2002.
While some of these post-2002 missile defence systems have been called ineffective, the US Navy has a more effective system called Aegis, which one former head of the Pentagon’s missile defence programs claims can shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles. Some 300 Aegis anti-ballistic missiles now equip 40 US warships; in 2008, one destroyed a satellite as it fell out of orbit.
In advance of the Iraq war, various governments and onlookers cautioned the US and UK about the potential for unforeseen consequences, but the two governments were driven by a mindset impervious to criticism and misgivings. And despite all the lessons that can be learned from the Iraq disaster, there’s an ample risk today that a similarly gung-ho attitude could take hold.
Foreign casualties generally have little impact on domestic US politics. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died under first sanctions and then war did not negatively impact presidents Clinton or George W. Bush. Neither might the prospect of similar casualties in Iran or North Korea or other states, especially if “humanitarian” precision weapons are used.
But more than that, an opinion poll run by Stanford University’s Scott Sagan found that the US public would not oppose the preemptive use of even nuclear weapons provided that the US itself was not affected. And nuclear Trident offers that temptation.
The control of major conventional weapons as well as WMD needs urgent attention from international civil society, media and political parties. There is still time to galvanise behind the Nobel-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the nuclear ban treaty, and to revive and globalise the decaying arms control agenda of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which played a vital part in bringing the Cold War to a largely peaceful end.
Like the Kaiser in 1914, perhaps Trump or one of his successors will express dismay when faced with the reality a major US offensive unleashes. But unlike the Kaiser, who saw his empire first defeated and then dismembered, perhaps a 21st-century US president might get away with it.
In 1944, the U.S.’s progress in its island-hopping campaign through the Pacific brought it to Ulithi Atoll. From March to September, they bombed the Japanese forces stationed there until they eventually withdrew, believing the atoll was too small to accommodate an airfield and therefore not of value to either side.