by Jacob Freeze
Thu Dec 20th, 2007 at 09:09:57 AM EST
In accord with the neo-conservative mantra that "real men want to go to Tehran," speculation in Congress and the press has concentrated on war with Iran as the catastrophe most likely to unfold in the last year of the Bush Presidency. But our delusional President may have bigger plans, and his meddling in Eastern Europe has brought the United States uncomfortably close to conflict with a much more dangerous opponent than Iran.
The Russians feel so threatened by the installation of anti-ballistic missiles and X-band radar in Poland and the Czech Republic that Vladimir Putin equates the current situation with the Cuban missile crisis that pushed the US and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.
"Analogous actions by the Soviet Union when it deployed rockets on Cuba provoked the Cuban missile crisis," the Russian president said after an EU-Russia summit in Portugal. "For us, technologically, the situation is very similar. On our borders such threats to our country are being created."
The highest ranking Russian general, Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevsky
, has also gone public with a doomsday scenario straight out of Dr. Strangelove
"The firing of an anti-missile rocket from Poland could be seen by Russia's automated system as the launch of a ballistic missile, which could provoke an answering strike," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Baluyevsky as telling a news conference.
Since Russia removed its intermediate
range missiles from the European theatre under the provisons of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)
signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987, the "answering strike" would come in the form of intercontinental
ballistic missiles, and the other continent in "intercontinental" is usually North America. (It's also worth noting that no one knows exactly how automatic
the "automated system" mentioned by General Baluyevsky may be.)
Of course, Europeans couldn't really expect to sit out a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia, watching missiles fly back and forth over their heads, and Putin issued a stark warning to Europe in an interview with the London Times June 4, 2007:
"It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the US is located in Europe and will be threatening us, we will have to respond. This system of missile defence on one side and the absence of this system on the other ... increases the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict."
The commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, General Nikolai Solovtsov, made the threat a little more specific December 17 in another interview with Interfax:
"If the US shield is seen to threaten Russia's nuclear capability, "I do not exclude ... the missile defence shield sites in Poland and the Czech Republic being chosen as targets for some of our intercontinental ballistic missiles,"
In case Europeans still don't get the message, Mr. Putin is repeating it in a stronger form than interviews by threatening to withdraw from the INF and suspend the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which limits Russia's deployment of tanks, aircraft and heavy conventional weapons across the continent. Most Americans never heard of the CFE, but this thing took ten years to negotiate before it was finally signed in 1992, and it's a very big deal in Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, where some people still remember Russian tanks rumbling down the streets.
Mr. Putin is also pushing a few hot buttons of the Bush administration with his unexpected decision to supply Iran with 80 tons of enriched uranium. This isn't some fantasy load of "yellowcake" from Niger! It's the real thing.
Well-informed readers may wonder why the Russians are painting a picture of the US and Russia on the brink of nuclear war, aligning themselves with Iran, abrogating treaties, and in general making such a fuss about ABM installations, even though virtually every ABM test ends in total failure.
The real nightmare for the Russians isn't some Rube Goldberg ABM installation in Poland, it's the possibility of a first strike by the United States against the Russian nuclear arsenal, and according to a recent article in Foreign Affairs by Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, this nightmare is getting closer to reality all the time.
The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy is full of very bad news for Russian generals and their old allies in China:
It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces.
Lieber and Press also describe how even the suspicion of first-strike capability destabilizes the delicate balance of mutually assured destruction.
U.S. nuclear primacy could prompt other nuclear powers to adopt strategic postures, such as by giving control of nuclear weapons to lower-level commanders, that would make an unauthorized nuclear strike more likely -- thereby creating what strategic theorists call "crisis instability."
We're already seeing a similar destabilization in Putin's saber-rattling at Europe, and the conclusion of The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy is even more alarming.
Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy.
In this context, "nuclear primacy" means the ability to destroy Russia with a first strike before the Russians can retaliate.
After the article appeared in Foreign Affairs, the Pentagon immediately dispatched one of its stooges, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, Peter C. W. Flory, to deny such a scandalous allegation against our peaceful and benevolent military-industrial complex:
Lieber and Press assert that current U.S. nuclear policy looks "like a coordinated set of programs to enhance the United States' nuclear first-strike capabilities," an erroneous inference that has already prompted harsh reactions in Russia and other countries.
But the harshest reactions
from well-informed Russian sources were aimed at the Pentagon, Mr. Bush, and the pitiful Mr. Flory himself. Alexei G. Arbatov, formerly Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee of the State Duma in the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, with responsibility for Russia's defense budget, arms control treaties, and defense industries, wrote in support of Lieber and Press:
The strategic balance between the United States and Russia is becoming less stable, and the objective, technical possibility of a first strike by the United States is increasing. At a time of crisis, this instability could lead to an accidental nuclear war. For instance, if Russia feared a U.S. first strike, Moscow might make rash moves (such as putting its forces on alert) that would provoke a U.S. attack. Lieber and Press are rightly concerned about that risk.
Mr. Arbatov continues with a discussion of recent developments in the Russian nuclear arsenal that's scarily reminiscent of General Baluyevsky's caution about an "automated" response by Russian nuclear defenses:
These forces will still be enough to serve as a minimal deterrent, but it will rely heavily on a hair-trigger alert, which is very dangerous in the age of nuclear weapons proliferation and catastrophic terrorism.
Russia's on-going concern about American first-strike capability has been severely exacerbated by plans to install the latest generation of X-band radar in the Czech Republic. In a recent article in Aviation Week & Space Technology, David A. Fulghum describes the jamming abilities of active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars:
The new radar, made of up of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of transmitter/receiver modules, can scan for targets, keep a continuous track of dozens of them, guide missiles and communicate. Perhaps most interestingly, all the power of the radar's TR modules can be focused to jam enemy radars in a narrow frequency band.
So the installation of a huge radar array in the Czech Republic radically increases the possibility of a first strike by threatening to blind Russia's early warning radar system for the very few minutes required to launch and land the latest generation of American missiles.
It's analogous to the sort of stun grenade that SWAT teams use to incapacitate hijackers for a couple of seconds while they kick in the doors.
Mr. Putin is facing a delusional President who has already launched a "pre-emptive" war based on nothing but malarkey, with an administration full of Cold War hold-overs like Dick Cheney and Elliot Abrams, and a peanut-gallery of crazy advisers like Donald Kagan and Norman Podhoretz, all of them still cherishing dreams of a New American Century. Now this gang of lunatics is installing a huge radar array on Russia's eastern border under the flimsy pretext of protecting Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons that don't exist.
Let us plant this stun grenade on your windowsill to chase away mosquitoes!
If Mr. Putin and the generals behind him are convinced now or in the near future that nothing stands between Russia and nuclear annihilation except the tender mercy of a neo-conservative cabal in Washington, it isn't hard to imagine how a very minor incident could push Russia's "hair-trigger" nuclear arsenal over the tripping point, and erase you and me as absolutely as if we had never existed.