by Willy B
There's been a lot of verbiage lately about the alleged nuclear threat emanating from Russia, often citing Russian President Vladimir Putin's March 1, 2018 address to the Federal Assembly as proof of Russia's malignant intentions. Mark Schneider, an analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy, writing in Real Clear Defense on May 30 went so far as to claim that Russia threatens pre-emptive nuclear attack on the US. "We have moved from the fantasy that there was no threat from Russia after the demise of the Soviet Union to a recognition of a serious Russian threat to the U.S. and its allies, including a nuclear threat in the last two years of the Obama administration and the Trump administration," Schneider wrote. "However, characterizing the relationship between the U.S. and Russia as 'competition' as it now appears in U.S. Government documents, does not go far enough. Lockheed and Boeing compete; Russia threatens preemptive nuclear attack. It is unilaterally trying to create a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states in the classic 19th Century sense while building the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. There is no competition here but rather a serious threat from Russia." He says this while the U.S., under the tutelage of British imperial geopolitics, is trying to make the entire globe its sphere of influence.
The day before Schneider's piece appeared, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, appeared at the Hudson Institute to, among other things, accuse Russia of violating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by carrying out low yield nuclear tests at its facility in Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic (video and a transcript of Ashley's remarks can be found here). “The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to the nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the zero-yield standard,” Ashley said. "Our understanding of nuclear weapon development leads us to believe Russia's testing activities would help it improve its nuclear weapon capabilities. The United States, by contrast, has forgone such benefits by upholding a zero-yield standard.”
However, as is often the case with such claims, there is less than meets the eye, as was revealed during the question and answer period. The DIA clearly has no evidence that Russia has actually carried out such tests. In response to a question from the moderator, Ashley said "it's just the protocols and our understanding and belief is they are set up in such a way that they are able to operate beyond what would be necessary for a zero-yield. And so the facilities that they're operating have that capacity to operate in something other than zero-yield." Rather than say "we have no evidence they're conducting nuclear testing," he said he was "not willing to affirm that they are actually adhering to that, which is where the U.S. is and how we've operated since the treaty has been in place." Under questioning from the Wall Street Journal's Michael Gordon, Ashley completed the transition from "they're probably testing" to "I believe they have the capability to do that."
Michael Krepon, a co-founder of the Stimson Institute, writing in a column in Forbes later that day, warned that Ashley's accusation may actually be a prelude to the U.S. breaking out of yet another arms control agreement, this time, the CTBT. "As a result of General Ashley's statement, it's now open season against the CTBT for those who want to trash another treaty," Krepon writes. He notes that critics of the treaty have already called on trump to "unsign" the treaty–the US signed it in 1997 but the then-Republican controlled US Senate refused to ratify it. "By 'unsigning' the CTBT, Trump would tell the world that the United States is no longer bound to respect the Treaty's obligation not to test nuclear weapons," Krepon reports.
Krepon raises the question of National Security Advisor John Bolton’s possible involvement in the DIA assessment. There's no evidence in the public record that he was but Bolton has a long and well known history of opposing arms control agreements and a record of fixing intelligence in order to fit policy objectives. "Bolton is on record opposing U.S. ratification and entry into force of the CTBT. Is he once again 'fixing the facts' to suit his policy preferences? Is the Defense Intelligence Agency once again guilty of reaching conclusions beyond available evidence, and misrepresenting the evidence it has? Or is there strong evidence of Russian violations of the CTBT's prohibition on testing?" Krepon asks. "We deserve answers to these questions before opening the floodgates to resumed nuclear testing."
Those arguing that Russia and China are geopolitical threats to the U.S. always present their theories as if the U.S. was a mere bystander that these countries suddenly took aim at without cause. Putin made clear, during his March 1, 2018 address–the same address in which he first announced Russia's new generation of strategic weapons–that Russia's strategic decisions about the modernization of its nuclear arsenal are determined, in part, by the threats it perceives from the United States, particularly since the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002, a decision that Russia "categorically opposed," he noted. "We saw the Soviet-US ABM Treaty signed in 1972 as the cornerstone of the international security system. Under this treaty, the parties had the right to deploy ballistic missile defence systems only in one of its regions. Russia deployed these systems around Moscow, and the US around its Grand Forks land-based ICBM base.
"Together with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the ABM Treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons, which would have endangered humankind, because the limited number of ballistic missile defence systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.
"We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty. All in vain. The US pulled out of the treaty in 2002. Even after that we tried to develop constructive dialogue with the Americans. We proposed working together in this area to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust. At one point, I thought that a compromise was possible, but this was not to be. All our proposals, absolutely all of them, were rejected. And then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike systems to protect our security. In reply, the US said that it is not creating a global BMD system against Russia, which is free to do as it pleases, and that the US will presume that our actions are not spearheaded against the US."
Putin noted that with few exceptions–the New START treaty of 2010 being one of them–Washington rebuffed all attempts by Russia to engage with the U.S. on efforts to maintain trust and strategic stability. Therefore, " in light of the plans to build a global anti-ballistic missile system, which are still being carried out today, all agreements signed within the framework of New START are now gradually being devaluated, because while the number of carriers and weapons is being reduced, one of the parties, namely, the US, is permitting constant, uncontrolled growth of the number of anti-ballistic missiles, improving their quality, and creating new missile launching areas. If we do not do something, eventually this will result in the complete devaluation of Russia’s nuclear potential. Meaning that all of our missiles could simply be intercepted."
That this is a situation intolerable for Russia is well known to the strategic elites in the U.S. Retired Gen. James Cartwright, a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told a conference in Virginia in 2012 that there were two concerns that have been expressed to him by Russians he had been in dialogue with. One, they're concerned about the possibility of U.S.
missile defenses being able to "reach out and touch'' their ICBMs and therefore upsetting the balance of power. Secondly, "there's the potential that you could, in fact, generate a scenario where, in a bolt from the blue, we launch a pre-emptive attack and then use missile defense to weed out their residual fires [that is, retaliatory launch of their remaining ICBMs]…. We're going to have to think our way out of this. We're going to have to figure out how we're going to do
We clearly have not thought our way out of this.