Russia threatens ‘retaliation’ after U.S. declares plan to withdraw from arms treaty
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will withdraw from the 1987 agreement unless Russia falls back into compliance.
- The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was an agreement between the Soviet Union and the U.S. to ban mid-ranged, nuclear-tipped missiles.
- Both Russia and the U.S. have accused each other of violating the pact in recent years.
- As it stands, Russia has 60 days to return to terms agreed upon in the deal or the U.S. will withdraw from the pact.
Russian officials said Wednesday that the United States' decision to withdraw from a long-standing arms agreement would be met with "retaliation" from Moscow in the form of developing new, previously banned nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia is "in material breach" of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the U.S. plans to withdraw from the pact in 60 days unless Russia falls back into compliance. The INF was a landmark agreement between the U.S. and former Soviet Union that banned mid-range, nuclear-tipped missiles, and resulted in the destruction of more than 2,500 missiles. Both nations have accused each other of violating the treaty multiple times since signing the pact.
In October, U.S. officials announced plans to withdraw from the treaty, alleging that Russia had been violating the treaty for years, particularly with its new SSC-8 ground-fired cruise missile. President Donald Trump said as much at a rally in October, and the comments ostensibly prompted Putin to later say that Russians will "go to heaven" in the event of nuclear war, while the "aggressors" — presumably Americans — will be annihilated and "won't even have time to repent."
On Wednesday, Putin said U.S. officials offer "no proof of violations on our side," and noted that the U.S. has, for months, been researching the development of weapons banned under the treaty — though researching such weapons isn't banned by the pact.
We are against destruction of the treaty," Putin added. "But if it happens, we will react accordingly.
Why withdrawal could benefit the U.S.
With credible evidence suggesting Russia has for years been violating the INF and shows no signs of stopping, the U.S. has little to gain by sticking to the treaty as it stands. Withdrawal, it seems, could be the smarter play because it'd allow the U.S. to take up strategic positions in the Pacific, as Elbridge Colby, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, wrote for the Washington Post in October.
The most compelling reason for withdrawal is that the United States could materially improve the military balance against China in East Asia by developing and deploying INF-noncompliant systems. China poses a much larger and more sophisticated long-term military threat than Russia, and U.S. strike options are more constrained by the geography of the Pacific. Washington would benefit from having the ability to deploy survivable land-based ballistic and cruise missile systems to provide a larger, more diverse and resilient greater strike capability in the event of a conflict in the western Pacific.
Nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia
- Total nuclear weapons: ~6,800
- Total nuclear tests: ~ 715
- First tested: August 1949
- Most recent test: October 1990
- Total nuclear weapons: ~ 6,550
- Total nuclear tests: ~ 1,030
- First tested: July 1945
- Most recent test: September 1992
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Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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