COMMENTS BY FORMER Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin — that the USA should institute a nuclear strike on Russia in response to its aggression over Ukraine — are unhelpful in the extreme; even so, the remarks inadvertently highlight the stupidity of the USA’s strategic arms policy on Barack Obama’s watch, and underscore the dangers of blithely accepting promises over national security at face value.
There isn’t a great deal to recommend the incendiary and provocative remarks made by Sarah Palin to the Conservative Political Action Conference, suggesting that ”the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”
Clearly, such a fraught and inherently dangerous international situation as that which exists between the West and Russia over Ukraine — and yes, between heavily nuclear-armed powers, to boot — scarcely needs fuelling by somebody widely regarded as a high-profile lunatic possessed of explosively ill-informed views, and who takes any and every opportunity to publicly air them.
Even so, Palin has drawn attention to an issue that has been a deep and increasing source of unease for conservatives, both in the USA and abroad, for much of the duration of the Obama presidency: the apparent determination, based on so-called agreements obtained from Russia in “good” faith, for both sides to commit to and execute steep cuts to their respective arsenals of strategic and tactical nuclear warheads.
I have long been of the view — and have said as much in this column — that negotiating with Russia over nuclear arms is akin to negotiating with a shark over a chunk of bleeding meat; the shark might swim around in circles a few times, and view you with bemusement, but eventually it will seize the meat and wolf it down. And you with it, if you’re unlucky.
Agreements with Russia — with little or no credible verification that it ever follows through in its disarmament commitments — to slash its nuclear arsenal at the same time as it modernises that same arsenal and tests its efficacy is a game of smoke and mirrors at best, and a ruse that the USA has been silly enough to fall for at its menacing worst.
It should go without saying this, but the West — stripped of the deterrent nuclear umbrella maintained by the USA, the UK, and France — would be a ripe target for conquest, incapable of any meaningful retaliation as it would be, and however noble or well-intended his motives, Obama’s approach to nuclear disarmament agreements with Russia have been an act of international lunacy.
To this end, Palin is absolutely correct. Where I take issue is with the follow-through call to strike Russia first over its activities in Ukraine generally, and in the Crimea in particular.
The situation on Europe’s far eastern flank is dangerous, volatile, and largely unpredictable; little reassurance can be derived from either the words or actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose incandescent approach to attempts at diplomacy over the incident even extend as far as to deny that the tens of thousands of Russian troops pouring into Ukraine are even Russian. According to Putin, they stole uniforms, or bought them.
Such idiocy is no laughing matter. Especially when the powers of the West now appear to be lining up to draw a “red line” at any Russian attempt to formally annexe the Crimea — irrespective of the outcome of next weekend’s referendum, which the Ukrainian government has nonetheless declared unconstitutional, and vowed to disregard.
Nobody knows how events surrounding Ukraine might play out, and whilst the last thing I would want to see is the ignition of a conflict that could spiral into World War III and/or a nuclear conflict, it is simply impossible at this point to categorically and emphatically rule such an event out.
To this end, comments from Palin that effectively advocate a nuclear first strike on Russia are unhelpful, inflammatory, and in extremely poor taste.
It is not known to what extent Palin is viewed in Russia as having any credibility, or the degree to which her utterances are likely to be regarded as in any way representative of official thinking in Washington.
But even the suggestion of a first strike from someone who five years ago was a serious candidate for high office in the USA is not the message that country should be conveying to Putin, and should nuclear weapons — God forbid — be used at all in relation to the Ukrainian dispute, a pre-emptive strike in the absence of any proportionate provocation from Russia (and as of today, there has been no such provocation) would permanently jeopardise America’s position in the post-war world order.
If, of course, there is a world left after such an event for any order to exist.
Palin should pull her head in. If she won’t restrain herself voluntarily, Obama should lock her up under the national security laws he inherited from his predecessor.