Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ukraine and US Nuclear Strategy

Readiness condition
Exercise term
Nuclear war is imminent
Maximum readiness
Next step to nuclear war
Armed Forces ready to deploy and engage in less than 6 hours
Increase in force readiness above that required for normal readiness
Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes
Increased intelligence watch and strengthened security measures
Above normal readiness
Lowest state of readiness
Normal readiness

source: Wiki

For the first time since the Yom Kippur war, the US and Russia have maneuvered themselves into another major superpower confrontation. In 1973, Brezhnev threatened to intervene militarily in order to prevent Israel from moving further into Syria and Egypt. Nixon ordered our strategic forces to Defcon 3 and also told Israel to pull back. War was averted, and Nixon was soon able to visit Cairo and meet Sadat. It was another Nixon foreign policy triumph.

This time, forty years later, Putin has decided to invade Ukraine on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians. In reality, this is Russia’s Monroe Doctrine concerning the former USSR. NATO has zero conventional capabilities in the region and is unable to protect Ukraine from Russian invasion. Thankfully, Ukraine is not a member of NATO--otherwise the situation would be even more serious, given NATO mutual defense obligations. We have the strategic option of allowing Russia to invade Ukraine, as we did with Georgia. That is a luxury.

Putin evidently intends to either annex the eastern Ukraine, to forcibly change the regime in Kiev, or both. PM Medvedev expressed today the intention of regime change: "Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Ukraine's leaders had seized power illegally, and predicted their rule would end with "a new revolution" and new bloodshed." Russia is in violation of a long list of treaties and, more threateningly, may be in the process of moving Russian forces to NATO's eastern border which is strategically reckless.

Russia controls the ground in this confrontation and has free reign to do whatever it wishes militarily. The challenge for NATO is how to respond, at which point I ask: “What would Nixon do?”. The answer is a long list of things, but which would definitely include raising the state of our strategic readiness to Defcon-3. This would require the Pentagon to move to a war-preparation footing and would bring the triad (ICBMs, strategic bombers and nuclear subs) to a higher alert level. Going to Defcon-3 is called saber-rattling, which can substitute for a lot of empty words and UN resolutions. Most importantly, it forces Putin to confront the reality of US strategic superiority in the event of war with NATO.

The US has enjoyed global strategic superiority since 1945. Despite Sputnik, Gagarin and the “missile gap”, the US has maintained this superiority for almost 70 years. We now know that, during the Cuban confrontation in 1962, Russia had a very small and unreliable rocket capability--which Khrushchev knew and Kennedy didn’t (no more U-2s). When Kennedy called Khrushchev's bluff, he had to back down because the entire population of the eastern bloc was at risk of annihilation. Kennedy was a reckless gambler, but he won, because even then we had more rockets. Throughout the history of US-Russian relations, our strategic superiority has played a crucial role: Taiwan in 1950, Korea in 1953, Berlin in 1961, Cuba in 1961 and 1962, Vietnam in 1973, Europe in 1983, numerous mideast conflicts, and now once again.

Today, both Putin and Obama have a pretty good idea of each other’s strategic capabilities. I believe that, when Obama is briefed on Russia’s nuclear arsenal, he will learn that it is old, creaky, unreliable and subject to serious command-and-control problems. Putin has a nuclear arsenal, but it is antique and no match for ours. Our rockets will fire and hit their targets. His may or may not: it’s 1962 again.

Since the earliest days of the Cold War, the Soviet strategy has been to try to take nuclear weapons off the table via the anti nuke movement, the peace movement, the CND, the freeze movement, etc. By removing America’s strategic superiority, Russia would regain military superiority--and huge leverage over Europe.

Reagan ultimately bankrupted the USSR by raising the nuclear stakes to a level where Russia could no longer afford to play (SDI). The collapse of the Soviet Union was a huge setback to the modernity and readiness of Russian’ strategic forces, with submarines rotting, bombers rusting and electronics remaining in the analog era. The Russian defense budget declined sharply, undoubtedly doing damage to its strategic capabilities. How old are Russia’s warheads? How accurate are its guidance systems? Can its MIRVs still MIRV?

US strategic policy since the end of the Cold War has been prudent, but a bit naive. Our strategy has been to maintain an effective arsenal and to rely upon the quality instead of the quantity of our weapons, thus allowing additional arms control treaties. In view of what happened today, I think those treaties are now obsolete and should be abrogated. Nonetheless, the still US enjoys overwhelming strategic superiority over Russia, and Putin knows it.

President Obama takes a very sophisticated view of US foreign policy and its limits. He understands the questions, and has an unemotional set of criteria for finding answers. His non interventionism and hostility to adventurism are admirable. However, his expressed desire to eliminate strategic weapons via treaty is naive and counterproductive. His statements to Medvedev regarding arms control flexibility were naive. Obama needs strategic superiority, especially this week. He needs to learn from this crisis. An unarmed US is Belgium. The US has been able to contain potential aggressors around the world because of strategic superiority. It is crucial that we maintain strategic superiority as a way to contain Russian and Chinese adventurism while preventing global war.

The way to maintain strategic superiority is to modernize the entire nuclear warhead and delivery arsenal (which will require underground testing), to bring the potential of SDI to fruition-- and not just against Iran, and to abrogate our obsolete and counterproductive arms control treaties which limit our superiority. This is the cheapest way to keep the peace. Strategic superiority is more important than the size of the army or navy, and much cheaper. The essence of deterrence is the certainty of an annihilating response to an attack. That certainty takes war with the US off the table as an option for Russia, China, Iran, Kim and others.

Strategic Defense
SDI will play a crucial role in the maintenance of US strategic superiority. Someday it may even offer complete immunity from nuclear attack. In the meantime, it erodes the credibility of the enemy's strategic capabilities; it is asymmetric. The mere existence of the program adds to our strategic superiority. Opposition to SDI plays into Russia's hands and weakens our superiority.

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