Inspired by a recent interview of Stephen F. Cohen by John Batchelor….
All around that dull grey world
From Moscow to Berlin
People storm the barricades
Walls go tumbling in
All around this great big world
All the crap we had to take
Bombs and basement fallout shelters
All our lives at stake
The bloody revolution
All the warheads in its wake
All the fear and suffering
All a big mistake
All those wasted years
All those precious wasted years
Who will pay?
The Cold War seems so long ago. Twenty-five years ago the Soviet Union was no more. Whether you believe the Cold War was real or merely a ploy to consolidate global power, it seems unquestionable that the time was one of potential (and at times almost realized) nuclear holocaust, even if only by mistake.
This came to an end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union…supposedly. In the intervening years, NATO – whose entire raison d'être was to protect Western Europe from Soviet expansion – has remained and grown, expanding further to the east. While there is some disagreement as to what promises were and were not made at the time regarding an eastern expansion of NATO, it is undeniable that such moves would be and are seen as threatening to Russia.
Stephen Kinzer writes, in “The US as a fading superpower”:
Fifteen years into the 21st century, it is clear that the United States faces an era full of new threats. Some are political and military. The most serious is psychological.
During this century, the United States will not dominate the world as it did during the last one. If Americans can adjust to this reality, there is hope for global stability. If we refuse — if we do not accept the relative decline in our power — our frustration may lead us to lash out in self-destructive ways.
Not only self-destructive. In any case, this self-destruction is ongoing – perhaps the best date to mark the beginning of this decline is September 11.
Nations naturally rise and decline over the course of time. Those that survive the longest, like China and Iran, do so by riding the tides of history. Americans have no experience doing that. For us the tide has always been high.
To understand this, Americans would have to understand history – not a strong suit. Americans have no memory of being anything other than the one on top – the dictator.
Signs of the emerging new world are impossible to miss. A terror gang in the Middle East has seized territory, and we are forced to realize that despite all our military might, we cannot dislodge it without help from local partners. Russia openly defies us. Turkey, a NATO ally that was long our lap dog, ignores our pleas and goes its own way. Saudi Arabia launched a war without even consulting us.
It is even worse. The US hasn’t been on the winning side of any meaningful “hot” war since about 1945 (yes, I know about Norman Schwarzkopf). A super-power without resume.
Kinzer offers a sobering – and realistic – perspective:
Most challenging is our changing relationship with China. By mid-century, if not before, Americans will be faced with a reality we have never known: a rival that is more populous, richer, and more historically powerful than the United States. Our response to recent Chinese probes in the Pacific has been militaristic…. If we pursue this policy, the long-term victor is likely to be them, not us.
The risks are, unfortunately, high:
Great wars often explode at moments of tectonic geopolitical change: when rising states challenge a long-dominant power. The conflict is set off not by a challenger, but by the dominant power, which fears losing its top-dog status. Thucydides cited this as the reason for the Peloponnesian War 2,400 years ago: “It was the rise of Athens, and the fear that this inspired in Sparta, that made war inevitable.”
The Top Dog’s Self-Destruction
The inertia of empire allows for movement in only one direction…. From the Los Angeles Times:
The Obama administration wants to enlarge the U.S. military presence in eastern and central Europe next year by stockpiling heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other military equipment across the region, a substantial expansion of U.S. efforts to counter a resurgent Russia.
The proposed $3.4-billion initiative will permit the Pentagon to keep the equivalent of a 4,000-soldier armored brigade in the region at all times on rotational deployments, though no troops will be formally based there, officials said.
The Pentagon plans to construct or refurbish maintenance facilities, airfields and training ranges in seven European countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. All are members of the NATO alliance.
Please take a moment to reflect on this list of countries; to aid in this, I offer the following:
Moscow: 1100 miles
Washington: 4900 miles
Moscow: 540 miles
Washington: 4300 miles
Moscow: 1000 miles
Washington: 4200 miles
Moscow: 500 miles
Washington: 4400 miles
Moscow: 500 miles
Washington: 4500 miles
Moscow: 700 miles
Washington: 4500 miles
Moscow: 900 miles
Washington: 5000 miles
In each case, the distance to the closest point in Russia (as opposed to Moscow) would be perhaps half…or much less.
To ask the question: “for which country – Russia or the United States – are these countries of more regional concern or risk?” is to answer it. Of course, an interventionist (or an advocate of US global hegemony) would look at the above listing and suggest that the risks are entirely due to Russia, having the audacity to place its borders so close to these countries.
Keep in mind: this NATO buildup, the equivalent of one brigade, while a symbolically significant increase, is still nothing more than a show – like a parade.
It would take at least seven NATO brigades, including three with tanks and other armored vehicles, backed by artillery and combat aircraft, to prevent Russian forces from “the rapid overrun” of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, according to a study released this week by Rand Corp., a Santa Monica-based policy analysis organization.
In other words, there is nothing here to prevent Moscow from overwhelming any of these countries militarily if it chose to do so.
Russian forces could reach Estonia and Latvia’s capital cities in less than 60 hours, the study estimated.
One is reminded of the promises made by Britain and France to Poland (promises made at the prodding of Roosevelt): we will come to your aid if attacked. The promises were empty – neither Britain nor France had the ability or intent to militarily intervene in a manner that would be of benefit to the Polish people. The promises served one purpose – to stiffen the Polish resolve against any compromise with either belligerent neighbor. History rhymes.
Permanently placing large numbers of troops in such proximity wasn’t supposed to happen:
In a 1997 agreement meant to prevent a return to Cold War tensions, NATO and Moscow pledged not to station large numbers of forces on each other's borders.
Unless you have good lawyers; you see, the troops won’t be permanent:
Pentagon officials say the proposed expansion does not violate that pledge because the troops will rotate in and out to multiple locations, even though the effect will be a constant presence.
If I am Going Down, I’m Taking All of You With Me
This isn’t only about conventional forces. From Stephen Kinzer, “Rearming for the Apocalypse”:
Americans are in near-panic over the danger posed by Islamic terrorists. That danger, however, pales beside an emerging new one. President Obama has proposed a frighteningly wrongheaded plan to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal at the unfathomable cost of about $1 trillion over the next 30 years. Terror will never reach even 1 percent of our population. Nuclear “modernization” increases the prospect of true devastation.
Obama has unveiled a plan “to develop and buy 1,000 new missiles with adjustable nuclear capacity, 100 new long-range bombers, and a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines.”
The nuclear threat seems diffuse and faraway, while the prospect of a deranged fanatic shooting up a cinema is as vivid as today’s news. Perhaps we have been lulled into security by the fact that no nuclear weapon has been used since 1945. Voices trying to alert us to the true threat are drowned out in a frenzy of over-the-top campaign speeches and TV rants about crazed Muslims.
As an aside, Kinzer doesn’t mention the name of the country that used nuclear weapons in 1945, or that it was the only country ever to do so, or that it was completely unnecessary to do so if the objective was to end the war.
However, to the main point – the discussion by today’s candidates for president regarding Russia is either a) we will destroy them (most candidates, or b) I would talk (Trump, at least sometimes). In any case, the threat from terrorism overwhelms the conversation.
The cruise missiles Obama wants to build could be used to deliver either conventional or nuclear payloads. If an air defense controller in another country sees one incoming on radar, he or she would have no way of knowing whether it was armed to destroy a building or an entire city. The temptation to launch nuclear retaliation could be irresistible.
Nuclear weapons are useful for deterrence only. The United States has more than enough for that purpose.
While utilizing nuclear weapons for deterrence is, in any case, immoral, I understand the logic of deterrence. I am not an expert on the utilization of nuclear weapons for deterrence as opposed to the utilization of nuclear weapons for offensive purposes. It does seem to me that multi-purpose cruise missiles and nuclear-armed submarines fall squarely in the latter category.
Investing huge sums in a new arsenal will not protect us from tomorrow’s threats. Most depressing, the proposal for this investment comes from a president who campaigned on a pledge to reduce and seek to eliminate nuclear weapons — and who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his apparent sincerity.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me forty-plus times (depending on who you want to include), shame on me.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz and California Governor Jerry Brown spoke at a press conference announcing the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' latest "doomsday clock" estimates. It is three minutes to midnight – not very comforting.
"The danger of a nuclear catastrophe today, in my judgment, is greater than it was during the Cold War…and yet our policies simply do not reflect those dangers," said Perry, who is a faculty member at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
US policies reflect poking the bear in his den.
The doomsday clock was initially designed to communicate the threat from nuclear weapons, but has since been expanded to include cyber and biosecurity and the dangers of unsustainable climate change.
Climate change? What?
Originally, the Clock, which hangs on a wall in the Bulletin's office in the University of Chicago, represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war; however, since 2007 it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.
Whatever one believes about “climate change and new developments in the life science and technology,” the apocalyptic risks, if any, are decades or centuries away – not three minutes. Nuclear war? Those ICBMs or submarine launched missiles could be coming down on your head even at this moment.
It is unfortunate that the scientists associated with this clock have diluted their message in worship of political correctness.
A Brief Reflection on History
Recently Henry Kissinger gave a lecture at the Gorchakov Fund in Moscow:
From 2007 into 2009, Evgeny Primakov and I chaired a group composed of retired senior ministers, high officials, and military leaders from Russia and the United States, including some of you present here today. Its purpose was to ease the adversarial aspects of the U.S.-Russian relationship and to consider opportunities for cooperative approaches.
There are some in the alternative community who see such discussions as evidence of the workings of new world order. Maybe. When the stakes are nuclear Armageddon, it is difficult to criticize the idea that both sides talk to each other (but maybe this is all part of the game?).
The prevailing narrative in each country places full blame on the other side, and in each country there is a tendency to demonize, if not the other country, then its leaders.
Democracy demands demonization. Democracy reduces the possibility for rational diplomacy.
Perhaps most important has been a fundamental gap in historical conception. For the United States, the end of the Cold War seemed like a vindication of its traditional faith in inevitable democratic revolution. It visualized the expansion of an international system governed by essentially legal rules.
The exceptional nation won. Enough said.
But Russia's historical experience is more complicated.
Don’t expect many in the US to understand “complicated,” especially when it comes to history.
To a country across which foreign armies have marched for centuries from both East and West, security will always need to have a geopolitical, as well as a legal, foundation. When its security border moves from the Elbe 1,000 miles east towards Moscow, Russia's perception of world order will contain an inevitable strategic component.
How can it not? The barbarians are at the gate!
The Alternative to Pursuing Peace is War
John Kerry – about whom it must be said has been the most rational voice on such topics among those within the current administration (a low bar, I admit) – understands the stakes. Speaking to Syrian aid workers about the breakdown of Syrian talks in Geneva offers:
“‘[Kerry] said, ‘Don’t blame me – go and blame your opposition,’” one of the aid workers, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her organisation, told Middle East Eye.”
Kerry sees that the Russians are serious:
Both aid workers said Kerry told them that he anticipated three months of bombing during which time “the opposition will be decimated.”
Apparently not a sufficiently satisfactory statement; Kerry was pressed further:
“‘What do you want me to do? Go to war with Russia? Is that what you want?’” the aid worker said Kerry told her.
Because that is the alternative.
Pariah dogs and wandering madmen
Barking at strangers and speaking in tongues
The ebb and flow of tidal fortune
Electrical changes are charging up the young
Whirlwind life of faith and betrayal
Rise in anger, fall back, and repeat
Slow degrees on the dark horizon
Full moon rising lays silver at your feet
It's a far cry from the world we thought we'd inherit
It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it
You can almost feel the current flowing
You can almost see the circuits blowing