Economist 1/25/16

  1. Plans to develop a successor for Tomhawk, the long-range stand-off missile (LRSO), before the old ones are retired in 2030—part of the Obama administration’s plan to overhaul America’s nuclear deterrent over the next 30 years at a cost of $1 trillion—are now under attack.The argument is that nuclear-armed cruise missiles are a “uniquely destabilising type of weapon”, because potential foes cannot tell whether they are being attacked with a missile carrying a conventional warhead or a nuclear one.Some, like Gordon Adams of the Stimson Centre, a think-tank, argue that land-based missiles are no longer necessary to maintain nuclear deterrence. They are the minority. The counter-argument is that as long as Russia builds all the 700 deployed missiles and bombers it is allowed under the New START treaty, America’s land-based force will still be needed—if only as a “sink” providing targets to absorb a nuclear strike.
  2. In addition a new aircraft, the Long Range Strike Bomber, (LRS-B) will be built as the principal carrier for the two weapons. In October the air force awarded Northrop Grumman the $55 billion contract to develop and build around 100 of these bombers, which should enter service in 2025 as the B-3.With computerised guidance, manoeuvrable tailfins and a warhead whose explosive power can be dialled up and down from 50 to 0.3 kilotons (from three times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb to 2% of it) to reduce collateral damage, they will be accurate to within 30 metres.Yet in nuclear deterrence such technological advantages bring their own problems. Precisely because it is so accurate and its yield can be made so small, the new bomb could make crossing the nuclear threshold a lot easier and therefore more tempting for commanders.Mr Murdock and Pentagon strategists fear that if America only has hugely powerful ballistic missiles at its disposal, it will be, in effect, “self-deterred” from responding to limited nuclear attacks (or threats of them) from opponents.
  3. Whatever the term, the prediction is the same: that Angela Merkel is on the brink of reversing the generous policy towards asylum-seekers that saw more than a million of them reach Germany last year.The winter weather has dented the refugee flows to Greece from Turkey, but not as quickly as hoped. Over 1,600 a day have reached Greece this month, a higher rate than last July when the crisis was already in full swing.Wrong-footed by the explosion in arrivals last autumn Mrs Merkel’s government tightened asylum rules, but few were put off. A growing number of Moroccans and Algerians, hailing from poor but peaceful countries, are coming to Germany, exploiting the trail blazed by Syrians and Afghans.To cut the numbers reaching Europe, Mrs Merkel has turned to realpolitik. German officials aim to strike deals with countries in the Maghreb and Asia to make it easier to return failed asylum-seekers, and are prepared to use development aid as a weapon.Their main hopes, though, lie in an “action plan” the EU cooked up with Turkey in October, which promised money and other prizes in exchange for efforts to stem the migrant flows.But, despite the incentives, there is little sign of Turkish action so far.
  4. To deal with the influx Mrs Merkel has backed an EU plan to register asylum-seekers arriving in Italy and Greece and to relocate them around the club, with national quotas calculated in Brussels. A million asylum-seekers should be no great burden for a union of 500m people. But the relocation scheme has flopped too: many countries want nothing to do with refugees, and refugees have no interest in most countries.In the meantime, Germany is beginning the difficult work of integrating hundreds of thousands of newcomers.But bringing refugees into the workforce, the main engine of integration, represents at least as big a challenge.Mrs Merkel is racing against time.The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party is notching up double-digit polling results for the first time.Despite the pressure Mrs Merkel is unlikely to shut Germany’s borders, because she wants to preserve the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone. But other plans are being drawn up inside the chancellery, including a sealing of the Greece-Macedonia border across which most refugees travel to reach Germany.
  5. ZIKA, a mosquito-borne virus that arrived in Brazil last May, is an avid traveller—and an increasingly feared guest. It has since found its way into 17 other countries in the Americas. Until October, Zika was not thought much of a threat: only a fifth of infected people fall ill, usually with just mild fever, rash, joint aches and red eyes. Since then, though, evidence has been piling up that it may cause birth defects in children and neurological problems in adults.Alarm bells started ringing in October, when doctors in Pernambuco, one of Brazil’s north-eastern states, saw a huge increase in babies born with microcephaly: an abnormally small head, often with consequent brain damage.There is another fear. After Zika arrived in Brazil, and also in El Salvador, both saw a sharp increase in severe neurological and autoimmune problems.Dengue and chikungunya—mosquito-borne viruses with similar symptoms—are common where Zika is making the rounds.Unlike the one for Ebola, though, which had been in the pipeline for a decade when the epidemic in West Africa began, a Zika vaccine is “at ground zero”, says Alan Barrett, also of the University of Texas. That is where potential antiviral drugs are, too.

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