Written by Finian Cunningham via Strategic Culture
The Trump administration’s declared scrapping of a crucial arms control treaty is putting the world on notice of a nuclear war, sooner or later.
Any such war is not winnable. It is mutually assured destruction. Yet the arrogant American rulers – some of them at least – seem to be deluded in thinking they can win such a war.
What makes the American position even more execrable is that it is being pushed by people who have never fought a war. Indeed, by people like President Donald Trump and his hawkish national security advisor John Bolton who both dodged military service to their country during the Vietnam War. How’s that for macabre mockery? The world is being pushed to war by a bunch of effete cowards who are clueless about war.
Trump announced last this week that the US was finally pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a move confirmed by Bolton on a follow-up trip to Moscow. That treaty was signed in 1987 by former President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It was a landmark achievement of cooperation and trust between the nuclear superpowers. Both sides removed short and medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe.
With Trump intending to rip up the INF Treaty, as his predecessor GW Bush had done with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, Europe is now facing the disastrous prospect of American missiles being reinstalled across its territory as they were in the 1980s. However, a big distinction between then and now is that after years of expansion by NATO, European territory is at an even sharper interface with Russia’s heartland.
When the INF Treaty was implemented three decades ago, the US and Russian nuclear arsenals were seriously dialed back to the strategic level of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) confined on respective landmasses separated by thousands of kilometers. As Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of Natsionalnaya Oborona, told Russia’s Vesti news channel, the ICBMs typically have a flight time of 30 minutes from launch. That time gap would give Russian defense systems time to respond effectively to an incoming strike from the US, and vice versa.
But, as Korotchenko noted, the impending installation of intermediate-range missiles by the Americans in European states will reduce the flight time of a possible US nuclear strike on Russia to a couple of minutes, even seconds. That would seriously challenge Russian anti-missile defenses, as well as greatly increasing the margin of error in detecting a strike, possibly leading to mistaken escalation. In other words, the strategic balance has been thrown into disarray by the US over the INF, just as it was again thrown into disarray back in 2002 when Bush trashed the ABM.
It also presents the Americans with the temptation to exercise their “first-strike doctrine”. In US military planning, it reserves the “right” to use a pre-emptive attack. By contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated again last week that Russia will never use a first-strike option, that it would only use nuclear weapons as a defensive action.
Recall that earlier this month, the US envoy to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said that American forces would “take out” Russian missiles if they are deemed to be violating the INF. It was an appalling expression of the pre-emptive prerogative that Washington grants itself, even though the information upon which it would base its action is highly questionable.
Putting the American logic together one can say that the US rulers have a death wish on the planet. With criminal recklessness, they are moving to loosen the international controls over deploying nuclear weapons and are creating a situation in Europe that puts nuclear war on a hair-trigger.
Moscow vowed last week that it will respond “militarily” if Washington goes ahead with scrapping the INF Treaty. Russia can be expected to counter by deploying shorter-range missiles that will put NATO-allied Europe in the firing line.
Surely, the European states must be asking themselves what kind of ally they supposedly have in the US. What kind of ally puts its supposed friends in the firing line, under the name of “protecting them”, while it remains at relatively safer distance?
The European Union has reacted to Trump’s announced withdrawal from the INF Treaty with horror. The EU is calling on the US to adhere to the treaty and to negotiate with Russia over purported complaints. French President Emmanuel Macron telephoned Trump, appealing that the treaty has been a vital element of Europe’s peace for the past 30 years.
Washington has been claiming for the past four years, since the Obama administration, that Russia is violating the INF by allegedly developing medium-range, ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow has repeatedly denied the claims, pointing out that the Americans have not presented evidence to back up their accusations. Washington says its information is classified, and so can’t be publicly revealed. That’s hardly convincing given past American deceptions over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Iran and Syria.
In any case, it is the Americans who are making a big deal about the alleged Russian violations of the INF. If the Europeans were really concerned, why haven’t they kicked up a fuss? The fact that the Europeans are pleading with Washington to adhere to the INF suggests that they are not convinced by allegations of Russia posing a missile threat.
Moreover, if there are disputes and complaints from the American side, then let them iron these problems out through diplomacy and negotiation.
It is telling that the US wants to instead escalate the tensions and the risks of war in such a reckless manner. That betrays its real agenda of seeking to militarize problems, rather than exploring political solutions. The difference it seems comes down to the US not actually having a valid political argument, so it must exercise its power through militarism as a way to conceal its lack of rational validity.
The root problem of INF Treaty tensions and alleged violations stems from the US-led configuration of military forces encroaching ever-closer on Russian territory. If the US were genuinely interested in ensuring security and peace in Europe then it would listen to Russia’s concern over the provocative expansion of US-led NATO forces towards its Western border. When Reagan signed the INF with Gorbachev it was on the understanding and commitment from the US side not to advance its military towards Russia “by one inch”. In 30 years, US forces have pushed all the way from Germany to the Baltic and Black Seas on Russia’s doorstep. Washington is trying to enlist Ukraine and Georgia into the NATO alliance, indeed is carrying out war drills with these two former Soviet Union states which share borders with Russia.
If the US now re-installs medium-range nuclear missiles with flight times to Moscow down to a matter of seconds then we can lament that the abandonment of the INF is a grave watershed move towards nuclear war.
The way out of this heinous dilemma is not only maintaining the INF Treaty. Furthermore, there should a wholesale scaling back of NATO forces in Europe on Russia’s Western, Northern and Southern flanks. Just this month, NATO is holding its biggest-ever war maneuvers since the Cold War in the Arctic region on Russia’s border with 50,000 troops, accompanied by a flurry of surveillance flights over Russia’s coast.
The insanity of America’s death wish for nuclear war has to stop. The American ruling class won’t stop it because their death wish mentality is so suffused with blind arrogance and ignorance and it is so integral with the “normal” functioning of their capitalist military-industrial complex.
Russia is holding the line with its undoubted military capability and its principled diplomatic prudence. But it is time for the Europeans to step up to the plate and to exert some sense on the Americans.
For a start, the EU states should tell Trump that any plan to re-install medium-range nuclear weapons on their soil is impermissible.
Secondly, the Europeans need to scale back the NATO expansion towards Russian territory.
Thirdly, they need to tell Washington that Russia is a partner, not a pariah to be abused for the benefit of American militarism and hegemonic ambitions.
Will the Europeans do that? Their leaders may not have the backbone, but the citizens of Europe will have to, if they want to prevent their American “ally” inciting a nuclear cataclysm. American arrogance is fomenting a European rebellion against its death-wish criminal leaders.