The Russian Question

Are we in for another nuclear standoff with the Kremlin?

by , November 09, 2015

It’s 2018, and President Hillary Clinton has announced that the Russians have violated her “no fly zone” over Syria. Damascus is about to fall, as jihadists – some armed and supported by the United States – gather in a final assault on the city. In the fog of war, a Russian fighter jet nearly collides with a US warplane sent in to fulfill the US “responsibility to protect” the “moderate” rebels.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the newly-elected ultra-nationalist government has declared its intention to take back Crimea, and the freshly-rearmed Ukrainian military – with the neo-Nazi Azov Brigade in the lead – moves into the city of Mariupol, which has just voted to secede from Ukraine and asked for Russian protection. In Kalingrad, the isolated Russian outpost completely surrounded by Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, groups funded by the EU are staging demonstrations demanding reunification with Germany. In the midst of all this, Vladimir Putin announces Russia’s withdrawal from the INF treaty, Russian forces converge on the border with the Baltic states, and President Clinton puts US nuclear forces in Germany – which have just undergone a second “upgrade” – on high alert.

Since the US-Russian verification and information exchange, mandated by the INF treaty, has been suspended since 2016, both countries are flying blind as far as monitoring the actions and intentions of the other.

It is near midnight in a small town in eastern Germany, as NATO radar picks up indications that what may be a Russian fighter squadron is headed for Kaliningrad, and NATO’s missile defense system – just installed in Poland last summer – readies its response. The world teeters on the brink of World War III, as Hillary Clinton gets that call at 3 a.m.….

Given the resumption of the cold war with Russia, some variation on the scenario described above is not only entirely possible, it is nearly inevitable. The INF treaty signed by Ronald Reagan is in danger of falling apart at the seams as NATO moves its forces ever closer to the Russian border and the Russians respond in kind. The US-EU coup d’etat in Ukraine, Georgia’s imminent entry into NATO, the “upgrading” of US nuclear weapons in Germany, and the radical uptick in anti-Russian rhetoric by US military and political figures has returned us to a danger we thought ended with the implosion of the Soviet empire: the threat of nuclear war.

Accusations that Russia has violated the terms of the INF Treaty are not quite true, but what is clear is that the US and its NATO allies are prepositioning heavy weaponry on their eastern frontier and doubling the size of our “Response Force” in Europe. The Russian response has been largely rhetorical: in terms of facts on the ground, their much-touted nuclear modernization effort still puts them many miles behind the US. As Adam Mount, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, puts it:

“Even if Russia were somehow to accelerate its nuclear modernization efforts, the U.S. Department of Defense recognizes that Russia “would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty.”

“To summarize: Russia could deploy many more missiles and still remain behind the United States in numbers of launchers and under the New START caps. Even if it cheated on the New START treaty and deployed still more, the Pentagon does not believe that this would significantly affect the strategic balance.”

The United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, installed anti-ballistic missile systems in two east European countries, and has aggressively moved to expand NATO to the point that they are standing before the gates of Moscow. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, signed by President George Herbert Walker Bush and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the winter of 1990, was effectively breached by the construction of permanent US military bases in Bulgaria and Romania, and the installation of US ABM facilities: the general atmosphere produced by the new cold war caused the Russians to formally withdraw from the treaty in 2007.

The encirclement of Russia is a key element of Putin’s justified paranoia: not only in Europe but also in Central Asia, the Americans are on the march, as John Kerry’s recent trip to the region demonstrates. There Kerry canoodled with Central Asian despots like Islam Karimov, whose bloody dictatorship is a model for tyrants everywhere, making stops in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as well as Uzbekistan, where the USA maintains a military base not far from the Tajikistan border. Manas Air Base, near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, has been a key link in the supply chain servicing US troops in Afghanistan. Kerry’s Uzbekistan sojourn was marked by a news conference in which a Washington Post reporter was hustled out of the room by US and Uzbek security for asking inconvenient questions about Karimov’s horrendous human rights record.

But human rights are only an issue for Washington in this context insofar as they can be used to indict Putin: the arrest and imprisonment of, say, journalists in Ukraine for questioning government policies is not even mentioned by our State Department, let alone protested.

The anti-Russian hysteria sweeping Washington doesn’t discriminate as to party: while Hillary Clinton has been vocal about the alleged Russian “threat,” and hasn’t backed down from her “no fly zone” advocacy since the Russian intervention, GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio has done her one better by openly coming out for shooting down Russian planes in Syrian skies. Falsely claiming that the US isn’t modernizing its nuclear arsenal, Rubio wants to install more ABM sites throughout eastern Europe, and says Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO – setting the stage for a full-on showdown with the Russians. Rubio’s “vision for Europe” would send us back to the 1950s, when the specter of all-out war between the superpowers haunted the headlines.

This retrograde vision is shared by most of Rubio’s Republican rivals, with the exception of Sen. Rand Paul – who is far behind in most polls. With Mrs. Clinton waxing hawkish when it comes to Putin’s Russia, and even Bernie Sanders echoing cold war propaganda – he supports US aid, including military aid, to Ukraine, and “freezing Russian assets all over the world” –   the political atmosphere here in the US does not bode well for Russo-American relations.

With the general collapse of the post-cold war arms agreements with Moscow, and escalating tensions with the Kremlin in eastern Europe and the Middle East, the danger of a military confrontation between the US and  Russia is as great as it has ever been. This represents a shift by the Washington elite away from their seemingly eternal “war on terrorism” to a Russia-centric policy targeting Putinism rather than Islamism as the main danger to US interests.

What is needed is a grassroots movement to counter the hysterical cold war propaganda being beamed at us by the “mainstream” media – and, of course, Antiwar.com is a leader in this respect. We’ve been warning against the dangers posed by a new cold war with Russia for years, and the latest developments simply underscore how right we were.

But we can’t do it without your help. If you’ve been to our front page, you’ll notice that we’ve started our Autumn fundraising drive – and it’s essential that our readers and supporters do their part to make it a success. We can’t hope to match the tremendous resources available to the War Party and its cash-rich thinktanks: but we do have one huge advantage, and that is the natural unwillingness of the American people to be drawn into another cold war. Popular support for arming Ukraine and provoking the Russians is very low, and no one wants a nuclear showdown with the Kremlin. Significantly, the less Americans know about Ukraine the more they support US intervention – which just underlines how important our educational campaign is

The demonization of Putin has been relatively successful, but the reality is that Russia has come a long way since the days of Stalin, and the willingness of the American people to engage in another international crusade against the Kremlin is highly problematic, at best. We have enough problems here at home that need addressing.

What is desperately needed is a revived grassroots movement to reduce our nuclear weapons arsenal and rebuild the arms agreements with Russia that have been gathering dust in the wake of the new cold war. Do we really want another version of the Cuban missile crisis?

I was struck by what one participant in the recent “Realism and Restraint” conference, co-sponsored by The American Conservative, the Charles Koch Institute, and the Georgetown University political science department, had to say at the outset of the event. In the first panel, Kori Schake, a research associate at the Hoover Institution who thinks US foreign policy must necessitate the recreation of the British Empire, raised a question that was meant as a litmus test of the other panel members’ views. What, she wanted to know, “should we do about Russia?”

That we need to “do something” about Russia is in itself an assumption that hardly anyone in the foreign policy community “mainstream” questions. Undergoing economic convulsions and suffering from a rapidly falling birth rate, Russia is in no position to challenge the policy of US “primacy” so lovingly advanced by Schake and her fellow neocons. The reality, however, is that the policy of global hegemony pursued by our foreign policy elites requires the subjugation of Russia – which is, after all, a nuclear power. And that represents a dire threat to the peace of the world.

The Russian question is, today, the main issue before us – and how we answer it will make the difference between war and peace.

The War Party never rests: their cold war propaganda campaign is off and running. Please help us counteract it by making your tax-deductible donation to Antiwar.com today.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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