Putin’s Russia: The Nuclear Red Line In Ukraine

AS THE UNITED STATES considers supplying so-called “lethal military aid” to the pro-Western regime in Ukraine, Russia’s nuclear sabre rattling goes on: now taking the form of “warnings” by retired Russian generals relaying “messages” from Moscow. As threats of war continue, and treacherous American dogs blame Washington for “nuclear aggression,” the Cold War — irrespective of whether it leads to any shooting — is well and truly back on.

Taking a little time to myself as I am this long weekend — a vicious brawl on Twitter with union stooges notwithstanding, which I may comment upon later — this morning’s post is intended only as the briefest of follow ups (for now) on a subject we touched on in cursory terms a fortnight ago.

I refer those readers who did not see my post in March about threats from Russia based on the circumstances in which it would launch nuclear strikes against NATO (which was most readers, actually: nobody is interested in the threat of nuclear war when it gets waved around these days, which is actually part of the point) to read it now, for even if nothing ever comes of the sabre rattling and menacing posture that is Russia today, little will in fact be achieved by simply ignoring it, or — worse — allowing political “leaders” to appease Russia and, in so doing, embolden it.

And as I have several times now when the subject of a prospective third world war comes up, I urge (nay, beseech) readers to watch this movie which, despite being a mere fiction, is realistic enough and adequately considered to drive home the point that even if actual nuclear war is not in prospect, every effort ought to be made to stop the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin using it as an almost dismissive conversational piece and veiled threat.

The reason for this fairly short post (and I will be back again later today, probably in the afternoon) is simply to share with those who haven’t seen it an article carried in The Australian on Thursday that relays the disturbing message of a group of retired military specialists from Russia that not only is Putin apparently serious with his nuclear bluster, but that from a cultural perspective the Russian people seem to actually believe and expect it.

One might say it’s the obvious path for an autocrat playing to nationalistic fervour domestically to cover the (voluble) flaws in his government to pursue.

But my point in raising this again today is that talking about nuclear warfare — implicitly threatening nuclear strikes for this-and-that (and in scenarios far more plausible than, say, North Korea’s idiotic bluster about “nuclear wars erupting at any moment”) — all feeds into the notion of lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons; generally you don’t hear nuclear-armed powers going around threatening to nuke anyone who pisses them off because of the inherent risk that someone else might strike first, fearing the threats are not bluster.

We now know — from this report, and others like it published in Europe — that had NATO opted to intervene directly in Ukraine, Russia was prepared to respond with nuclear weapons.

In a likely pointer to Putin’s next acquisition targets, we are told that any Russian exercise in the Baltic states that meets with military interference from NATO will result in Russia using its nuclear armaments against NATO.

And where this becomes more than a little worrisome centres on the plan — still unfinalised, thankfully — being mulled by Barack Obama to supply “lethal military aid” to Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed insurgents and guerilla fighters on Ukrainian soil, for this too has been singled out by the Russians as possible grounds for a non-conventional retaliation against the United States.

Just to muddy the waters, a quick Google search is all it takes to find a mountain of articles by treacherous anti-US American crackpots (like this and this) who either directly accuse the Obama administration — defective as it is — of actively seeking to foment all out nuclear conflict with Russia, and/or who seek to propagate all manner of anti-American conspiracy theories (such as the recent Germanwings tragedy, which is portrayed as a failed missile test rather than the pilot suicide it was).

What this rubbish proves, starkly, is that the old Cold War practices of infiltration, disinformation and deception are well and truly alive.

I remain reasonably sure that nothing will come of any of this, and that Putin’s bluster and unsubtle threats of nuclear retaliation for any Western meddling in Russia’s military and territorial aspirations are just that: bluster.

Even so, in such a fraught context, the last thing America should be doing is arming the Ukrainian military with lethal munitions to fight Russian-backed soldiers; the closeness of such an action to an outright armed confrontation with Russia itself makes such an action unforgivable in its potential to trigger some kind of escalation that could easily get out of hand.

The Russians, for their part, should hold off on the open threats of nuclear retaliation; as we have observed previously, they don’t help anyone or achieve anything.

Yet whichever way you cut it, the Cold War has well and truly recommenced: and it is why, whilst I am not worried in any immediate sense as to where that might lead, it amazes me that of all the traffic that comes through this site the articles dealing with strategic balance and the situation between Russia and its allies and the West receive the fewest visits of anything published in this column.

Overt Threats Of Nuclear Attack By Russia Help No-One

AN ISSUE OVERDUE for discussion involves Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks that had Russia been confronted militarily over its annexation of Crimea or its mischief in Ukraine, it was ready to use nuclear weapons; now, Russia threatens nuclear attacks on Denmark if it aligns more closely with NATO. These brash declarations may be bluster, but the only wise conclusion to draw is that Putin is capable, literally, of anything.

One of the issues I alluded to a week ago that I would have to come back to when time permitted has, in fact, returned on its own, and whilst tonight’s article is big on links for further reading, I’m going to keep the commentary portion of it fairly succinct: clearly this is something that isn’t going to go away, and it seems certain we’ll be talking about Vladimir Putin and his thousands of nuclear warheads again — and probably sooner than anyone might like.

The revelation by Vladimir Putin (reappearing in public after seemingly vanishing into thin air for a week and a half) that Russia would have responded to any military confrontation over Ukraine and/or Crimea with nuclear weapons is ominous enough, even if such a declaration could be ascribed to the chest-thumping bluster of a notoriously macho shithead.

But — lest anyone make the mistake of dismissing these veiled nuclear threats as isolated — I have been motivated tonight to publish the post I meant to write a week ago by the news that Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, has stated that his country would target Danish warships with nuclear warheads if the Scandinavian nation joins NATO’s missile defence shield, a US-led venture to safeguard against nuclear missiles launched by “rogue states” (read: North Korea and Iran), which Putin has long believed is aimed explicitly against Russia.

30 years ago, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — alarmed that Ronald Reagan went within a whisker of signing away the West’s nuclear deterrent in response to a proposal by USSR chief Mikhail Gorbachev that both sides unilaterally eliminate their stockpiles of warheads — famously observed that you could no more disinvent nuclear weapons than you could disinvent dynamite: despite the best will in the world, nuclear weapons and the technologies that enable them are with us forever.

The irony of course is that Gorbachev was probably the one Soviet or Russian leader in the last 70 years the West had no reason to fear. But the warmer relations it enjoyed with Gorbachev soon turned chill under Boris Yeltsin, and have become positively icy on Putin’s watch.

On one level, Putin’s well-known desire to restore Russia to the glory of its Soviet heyday as an economic and military superpower is understandable.

But the ridicule once attracted by Russia’s military as a decaying reserve of infrastructure and obsolete weaponry overseen by a contingent of manpower that was shrinking as quickly as its members could desert it has given way to the realisation — that those of us with an interest in such things knew — that all the while, Russia was rearming; that whilst the West (and the present occupant of the White House in particular) was signing new deals with Russia to make steep cuts in nuclear stockpiles, Russia was lying to its “partners” in the West, testing new weapons, overhauling old ones, and restoring its strategic forces to a position of superior strength.

Now — against a backdrop of nationalist fervour whipped up in Russia by master propagandist Putin — Russia is slowly but surely beginning a faltering advance aimed at “safeguarding” its “people abroad” (think the Russian-speaking peoples of Ukraine, and Belarus, and the Baltic states) and reclaiming its “historical sovereign territory” (think Crimea, whose annexation was legitimised by a “referendum” widely believed to have been fixed and universally regarded in the West as illegal under international law).

Now, we have Russia asserting its right to station nuclear missiles in Crimea — bringing all of Western Europe into much closer range — at a time of belatedly heightened international alarm over Russia’s motives and in apparent response to naval exercises in the Black Sea that infuriated Russia.

We have Russian military drills of their own, involving 45,000 troops and dozens of warships in the Arctic, which the Kremlin is openly telling any Western media outlet that cares to listen are all about getting the Russian military to a state of “combat readiness.”

We have reports that Russia is testing what sounds suspiciously like a neutron bomb, or similar, the intended purpose of which is ominously obvious.

We have ongoing attempts to decouple Europe from the United States with propaganda and misinformation — the old Soviet playbook — which should surprise nobody, given Russia has spent the past 20 years trying to get Europe addicted to supplies of Russian gas as a way of guaranteeing the dependence of the EU on Russia and detaching it from American influence.

We have reports of Russian attempts to station nuclear missiles near the Polish border and/or plans to invade or otherwise attack Poland; doing so would almost certainly draw in Germany, and with it NATO: and once the question of active warfare is one of NATO versus Russia, that — to use the vernacular — is tantamount to the whole powderkeg going “kaboom.”

And all this comes several years after Russian nuclear bombers resumed long-range patrols in international airspace and, more recently, as its fighter planes have repeatedly made incursions into European airspace, particularly around Britain, as they apparently seek to test the combat readiness of the Royal Air Force: flying up the English Channel and close to Britain’s south-west coast, forcing civilian passenger aircraft to take urgent evasive action and/or for flight paths to be re-routed, these are not the actions of a country seeking to minimise or mitigate against the prospect of a deadly and incendiary accident.

And it comes as the US — “led” by its most strategically dangerous and insignificant President since Jimmy Carter — mulls plans to arm the Ukrainian military against Russian-backed insurgents fighting against it in parts of Ukraine, with the attendant risk that doing so may provide the pretext for a direct Russian military response that could lead to God only knows what.

I do not post this evening to appear alarmist, inflammatory or to sound frightened, for I am none of these things.

But the simple fact is that over the past few years the accrual of evidence of a belligerent and confrontational Russia is overwhelming; its footprint is everywhere, and Russia’s fingerprints extend too far and too thoroughly across the Eurasian region now to suggest anything other than a bellicose Putin prepared — literally — to do anything in order to reclaim the lost lands of the USSR, and willing to risk the consequences of doing so.

Russia is not a friend, or a partner, or an ally: it is the enemy of freedom, and the sooner more people realise this basic truth of 21st century politics, the better.

And its antics can hardly be ascribed to bluster any more, or the mere trifle of a few military exercises that nobody should worry about.

Any nuclear attack launched by Russia on any country or countries in the Western hemisphere will be met with overwhelming nuclear retaliation against Russia by the United States and Britain; nobody should suffer from the delusion Putin appears to suffer from that nuclear force would not be responded to in like kind.

Those in the UK who seek to question the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent — in the context of the election campaign underway in that country at present, and with the Labour opposition struggling to fend off an assault on its Scottish seats from the irresponsible and criminally populist SNP, which is campaigning on a pledge to remove nuclear submarines from the River Clyde — would do well to consider that without Trident, Russia could simply level the UK without resistance if it chose to do so, the threat of retaliation from the Americans notwithstanding.

And in fact, the disarmament daydreams of Barack Obama are likely to see his successor in the White House (preferably a Republican) make the reinvigoration and restoration of US strategic forces an urgent priority. The beaten Republican candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, claimed during that campaign that the West would face the risk of nuclear blackmail and perhaps nuclear attack from Russia — and was laughed at. Romney was right, and this column acknowledged as much at the time (and I elicited much derisive comment and accusations of conspiracy theorism for my trouble). Nobody is laughing now.

But with or without Britain’s Trident nukes, if the Russians start shooting — and the US responds — the ensuing apocalyptic episode will render considerations of general elections, military alliances and even planning as far as the following week forever redundant.

Any reader who has not seen this chillingly credible depiction of nuclear warfare previously should spend the requisite couple of hours doing so: in what is unquestionably a fresh Cold War between Russia and the West, it’s high time this kind of thing once again sears the collective conscience of those faced with nuclear blackmail or, even worse, the existential threat of a general nuclear war and the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of lives it would terminate.

I’m going to leave it there, for the purpose of this article is to get a reasonable chronicle of recent events regarding Russia and its warlike behaviour — to say nothing of its loose and provocative nuclear rhetoric — onto our radar; this is the first time we have discussed such matters for some time, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

And at some point we might have a look at the handling of Russia by the West since the fall of the Soviet Union, for just as Putin is depicted in some quarters as a madman and a lunatic, not all of the fault for the developing crisis and return to Cold War conditions lies with Russia: the West has made mistakes in its treatment of the Russians ever since the Berlin Wall came down, and as immeasurably superior to a life under Communism as the free world might be, there are some — the first President Bush being a case in point — who simply couldn’t resist poking the Russian bear in the eye with the very sharp stick of triumphalism.

But in the end, those men who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it: it is not too late to avert a disaster, and it is not too late for Russia to reach an accommodation with the West that does not stink of appeasement by the latter, or include ambit and unreasonable demands from the former.

But the trend of escalation is now clearly to be seen, in full view, with the apocalyptic threat of a nuclear war made in stark and blunt terms for the first time in decades. It isn’t a set of circumstances to be taken lightly, diminished with propaganda, or simply to be ignored.

“Don’t Mess With Us:” Putin Threatens Nuclear War

AS WESTERN CONSENSUS concludes that Russia has now invaded Ukraine — with 1,000 of its troops crossing the border into the neighbouring, disputed region of that country — its President has for the first time made an explicit threat of nuclear retaliation against Western governments who intervene and engage Russia militarily in response. This ominous rhetoric, in likelihood, is posturing, but the possibility that it isn’t cannot be ignored.

I’m going to keep this brief as I have been up all night (it’s 6am in Melbourne as I start writing this) attending to my 18 month old son; the things you keep abreast of when the day is unfolding on the other side of the world can be remarkable, and so is this: for all the wrong reasons.

The incursion of about 1,000 Russian troops into the disputed part of Ukraine that has seen insurgent activity now for months — Russia calls them “separatists” — has been the subject of much discussion internationally, and it seems that the product of that process has been to conclude that after seemingly threatening to do so for months, the troop movement does in fact constitute “an invasion.”

In addition to the thousand or so troops that have already entered Ukraine, there are reports of tens of thousands more that are massed along the border between the two countries, and who could join the conflict at virtually a moment’s notice.

The issue of what to do about Russia and Putin — not least in the aftermath of the atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, blasted out of the sky by insurgents armed with Russian-supplied weaponry, for which Putin denies all responsibility — has proven fraught, with sanctions brought against Russia by various Western governments having no apparent effect other than to embolden the Russians to continue along the provocative course they seem to have embarked upon.

Indeed, our own Prime Minister Tony Abbott is weighing whether to bar Putin from entering Australia later this year to attend the G20 conference; my sense is that whilst it would send the right message to the international community, whether or not Putin attends a talkfest is largely immaterial in the bigger scheme of things.

Already, Putin is threatening to cut gas supplies to an EU that is surprisingly gung-ho in its intent to retaliate against Russia; this was blamed in advance on Ukraine siphoning supplies destined for the EU as a way of circumventing restrictions placed on its own supplies. And just last night, it was announced that Germany would weigh an even tougher sanctions regime against the Russians.

But perhaps mindful of the fact Western leaders (despite the distraction of ISIS in the Middle East) give every appearance of turning their collective minds to dealing with Russia punitively for its part in fomenting the destructive events and loss of life on its doorstep, Putin has sounded another — and far more ominous — warning.

Speaking yesterday to a pro-Kremlin youth camp, Putin raised the spectre of retaliating with nuclear weapons against any powers who chose to engage in “large-scale conflicts” with Russia: “it’s best not to mess with us,” he rather euphemistically told his audience.

It is highly likely that in raising the prospect of nuclear conflict, Putin is merely posturing, playing as much to domestic audiences at whom his strongman image is directed as to the US, the UK, and leading European countries like Germany.

Yet as the article from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that I have linked this morning notes, even during the Cold War it was rare for Soviet leaders to openly reference the country’s nuclear arsenal, let alone rattle the nuclear sabre.

The comments echo a far more oblique threat of Russian nuclear retaliation a couple of years ago, when Putin’s Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev, suggested a nuclear conflict was not out of the question if the US attacked Iran, or later remarks by a Russian emissary who suggested a similar escalation could result from American attacks on insurgent positions in Syria.

Iran and Syria, of course, have long been Russian protectorates: as recent events in Syria at least have shown with the emergence of the ISIS menace, perhaps the Russian bluff ought to have been called on that occasion.

Putin’s remarks yesterday, however, make those earlier instances of nuclear posturing seem trivial.

Putin is no fool and no madman; he is fully aware that remarks of the kind he made yesterday will only be interpreted in Western circles as a clear and direct threat of a nuclear response.

The message is, very simply, that America and its allies should butt out of what is occurring in what Russia regards as its sphere of influence.

The great risk, of course, is that Russia uses the cover of what amounts to nuclear blackmail — on a calculation that the West, fearful of the consequences, will not intervene — to engage in a brutal slaughter designed to achieve its ambitions in Ukraine, in total disregard and contempt of any outcry or objection its actions provoke further afield.

And it goes without saying that even if Russia is permitted by an uneasy Western alliance to do what it pleases in Ukraine, the obvious question is who comes next: Putin is committed to his grand objective of reviving the Soviet Union, and like the advancing German menace in the late 1930s, appeasing Russia now — under the threat of existential consequences — will only encourage and embolden Putin to engage in more of the same behaviour as his expansionist agenda is pursued.

There is also the prospect that at some stage the Putin Soviet restoration project will advance into NATO territory; if and when it does, then all bets are off — threats of Russian nuclear strikes or not.

Whichever way you cut it, Putin has drastically escalated both the explosive situation in the disputed Ukraine region and the icy relations between Russia and the West it has created.

He has made it far more difficult for Western and NATO leaders to respond, and elevated the stakes insofar as a misstep by either side might trigger a wider conflict.

I’ll keep an eye on this and I encourage readers to do so as well. But just as Putin may be grandstanding, there is also the prospect that he isn’t.

And that — however probable or otherwise — means the situation on Europe’s eastern flank has just entered an apocalyptically dangerous new phase.

 

Hard Reality: Only A Fool Advocates “Banning” Nuclear Weapons

THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT that nuclear arms rank among the most destructive instruments of human ingenuity ever devised; there is no doubt that any global war involving their widespread use will either enslave the handful of survivors or be so lethal as to ensure there are none. The best possible intentions envisage a world without nuclear weapons, but the real world and its realities dictate that only a fool would ever attempt to realise such an objective.

I have been reading a story from the Fairfax press today, which reports on a meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in Hiroshima; this event was attended by the foreign ministers of 12 non-nuclear countries, and unsurprisingly featured survivors of the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 as advocates for the outright banning of the possession of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Their call failed to elicit a commitment from the delegation to such an end; thank goodness it did.

I think nuclear weapons are horrific instruments of warfare; it is virtually impossible to use them without killing thousands — perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands — of innocent civilians every time such a bomb is deployed, even if the intended military or strategic target is destroyed.

I also generally believe that nuclear-armed nations should refrain from any first use of nuclear weapons.

There are exceptions: during the first Gulf War, US President George H.W. Bush issued a barely veiled warning to Saddam Hussein that any use of chemical and/or biological weapons on Allied troops would elicit a nuclear response on Baghdad; in the wake of the terrorist atrocities of 11 September 2001, many commentators (including me) openly advocated nuclear retaliation if the attacks could be conclusively linked to either a foreign government or state-sponsored terrorist attack (they couldn’t).

But these are rare (and thankfully isolated) instances of unprovoked aggression warranting a nuclear response that, fortunately, failed to materialise, and I contend that provided there is enough restraint on the part of nuclear-armed powers to refuse to be the first to launch, this at least is one safeguard against the prospect of general nuclear warfare that would decimate civilisation as we know it.

Where the equation starts to blur is around notions of deterrence and nuclear blackmail; the weapons don’t need to be actually used to either safeguard their owners from attack or to achieve sinister objectives under duress. I don’t even think lunatics like the regime in North Korea envisage nuclear retaliation for an unprovoked atomic attack raining down upon it with any relish; it is fair to say that even the most hardened despots find the prospect of their own nuclear annihilation abhorrent, even if their regard for that of others is cavalier at best. Thus, the irony is that it is on the very questions of deterrence and blackmail that the root of the debate over nuclear arms resides.

The conference in Japan to which the Fairfax report pertains — staged, as it was, against the backdrop of the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine — even noted that the Russian action may not have occurred had Ukraine not ceded the nuclear arsenal it inherited upon the collapse of the USSR back to Russia in 1992: I’d say it’s a very fair assumption to make, given nobody would have intervened in the interests of either side had a localised Russia-Ukraine nuclear exchange erupted over Crimea. (Yes, I am aware of the issue of fallout such a regional conflict would impose on surrounding countries. My point is that those countries and their allies would hardly worsen the problem by inviting the spread of the conflict itself onto their soil).

Whilst that scenario is obviously a hypothetical one, a live version of it was played out early last decade between belligerently nuclear-armed India and Pakistan; these are countries whose religiously based hatreds run deep, and whose military planners for a long time viewed nuclear weaponry as simply the latest — and most potent — thing to lob at each other should they return to a state of war, most notably over the disputed border region of Kashmir.

At the time, wiser heads prevailed upon both sides to cool the tensions that led perilously close to war. But the undercurrents that remain could as easily be stirred anew: shortly after the last explosive crisis was defused more than a decade ago, India’s nationalist, right-wing BJP government was defeated by the Centrist Congress Party; that wheel has now turned full circle, with the BJP expected to return to office in a landslide in elections underway as we speak after two terms in the wilderness. And Pakistan is hardly a country noted for its stability or security, and in which a hardline military junta could seize power at any time — just as it did in 1999. Unlike the hypothetical Eurasian scenario, the variables in this regional powderkeg remain just as volatile, and heavily armed with nuclear weapons to boot.

One of the reasons there is no serious talk of military assistance to Ukraine and against Russian aggression is because Western powers know it is action they cannot take: nuclear-armed Russia might respond by engaging in conventional warfare. But there is no guarantee that Vladimir Putin wouldn’t select the nuclear response available to him, either.

I can hear my critics. Doesn’t all of this speak for — rather than against — the abolition of nuclear weapons?

Margaret Thatcher once said (of a proposal by President Gorbachev for the USA and the USSR to unilaterally disarm, which Ronald Reagan contemplated agreeing to) that you could no more “disinvent” nuclear weapons than you could “disinvent” dynamite: from her perspective, which was that of the Anglo-American alliance, if others had them, then Britain and the US must have them as well.

She was absolutely right, much to the horror of the CND activists who momentarily believed their wildest dreams would come true.

For one thing, for the abolition (or banning, elimination, whatever you want to call it) of nuclear weapons to be feasible, there must be trust among the stakeholders involved; I point directly to the Kremlin, noting that the actions of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine — whilst not involving nuclear weapons, or at least, not yet — are evidence enough of the repercussions in such situations where one side simply disregards the imperatives of the other.

Does anyone seriously think that if Russia agreed to unilaterally destroy its nuclear arsenal that it would honour the deal? It might permit international inspectorates to monitor the dismantling of x number of warheads. But Russia — not to put too fine a point on things — has shown itself to be untrustworthy. Who would risk the security of the entire free world on a potentially empty promise from its government?

For another, there are those states that either refuse to officially confirm the existence of their nuclear arms (Israel) or refuse to sign instruments aimed at the control of nuclear weapons and curbing their proliferation (India, Pakistan, North Korea). North Korea in particular is unlikely to ever voluntarily surrender what limited number of warheads it possesses; it also has a recent history of being led by lunatics hellbent on inciting anti-US hatred among its population. A denuclearised America would face the very real prospect of a North Korean container ship being sailed into San Francisco Harbour, and…kaboom.

It is well known that China’s military mischief in recent years — principally over matters of disputed territory that it pushes claims over with Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam — have been constantly ratcheted up and underpinned by the nuclear muscle to settle any or all of them at a stroke if required; one of the realities that constrains China from doing so is the fact Uncle Sam would retaliate in kind and in such a fashion that there simply wouldn’t be a China (a scenario which also raises — depending on whose version of geopolitical allegiances you listen to — the prospect of Russia coming to China’s aid against the US).

In all of these cases, the very existence of nuclear weapons on one side of a given equation is a balance and a restraint on the other from using its own. It isn’t an ideal situation by any stretch. But it has prevented nuclear conflict since World War II, and certainly since the USSR achieved an offensive atomic capability of its own to match the United States in 1949.

And there is no guarantee whatsoever that the scenario regularly presented by the younger President Bush — that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists, whether sold by a rogue government or stolen, that can then be used against countries like the USA and its allies — will never happen. In fact, an international disposal operation of tens of thousands of warheads would increase the likelihood of precisely that occurring, given the heightened difficulties in accounting for every warhead during such a massive undertaking, and verifying and documenting the dismantling and destruction of their components.

We’ve only touched on a handful of the world’s hotspots and the hypothetical scenarios and permutations they conjure up. There is no shortage of others. But to fundamentally alter the uneasy nuclear balance that has evolved over almost 70 years is, to my mind, to fundamentally undermine international security and heighten — not eliminate — the risk of an unprovoked nuclear attack occurring somewhere in the world.

Do I deny the risk of nuclear accidents? Of course I don’t.

Do I deny the possibility of a sneak nuclear attack occurring as things stand? Of course not.

Do I deny the horrific suffering inflicted on the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945? Of course I don’t.

And — except for the attacks in New York in 2001 — I don’t think any of the world’s conflicts since 1945 should have been settled using nuclear weapons; 2001 is a moot point, as there was no identifiable enemy against whom to retaliate in such a tangible fashion.

(And anti-Iraq War people: don’t read more into that than it says at face value; Hussein had to be overthrown and the US was right to do it, even if the “intelligence” provided by the Blair government that justified the operation subsequently proved to be largely incorrect).

Even if the eight known nuclear-armed countries pledged to irreversibly dispose of their nuclear arsenals (and even if, by some miracle, North Korea actually did it) there are three considerations that cannot be discounted, and the existence of any of them should be a bar at least to our friends in the US and the UK, in our interests and theirs, from dismantling their arsenals.

1. Someone might hold out: someone might retain a “secret stash.” It’s not impossible by any stretch.

2. Someone else might have nukes and/or sell them to stateless third parties who then act independently to launch against a disarmed Western country stripped of the deterrent of the US-UK nuclear umbrella.

And (most importantly) 3. Destroy the warheads by all means, but the technology would still exist. There are already those, such as rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who have proliferated this technology to North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and God alone knows who else. The knowledge is too widespread to be wiped from existence, and too valuable not to be preserved. It will always exist. Any belief to the contrary is, frankly, so intellectually negligent as to defy belief. And for as long as it exists, the threat posed by nuclear weaponry will exist as well.

The “goal of a world free of nuclear weapons” is a noble one, but it can never happen: in this vein, the foreign ministers at the Hiroshima conference were right to resist the call to ban nuclear weaponry outright, and it is a matter of some small mercy that its recommendation to ban the production of “fissile material for nuclear weapons” will carry so little weight as to never be enacted.

In Fairyland, there will never be nuclear war. In the real world, the prospect of it can never be entirely discounted. The hard, cold reality is that deterrence is a better option than a state of disarmed helplessness. Only a fool would suggest the latter is in any way preferable.

 

 

Sarah Palin: Let’s Nuke Russia

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.

 

 

More Resources: Military Movements And The Prospect Of War

FOLLOWING OUR post on New Year’s Eve — which pondered whether 2013 had taken the world closer to Armageddon or not — this morning’s post is intended simply to share additional material with readers; the question is receiving considerable attention both in Australia and abroad, as comparisons between 1914 and 2014 are drawn: and a frightening incident off the Scottish coast shows how easily it could occur, even by miscalculation.

It’s not a very pleasant subject this one, to be sure, and — like most readers — I hope and pray it’s one that never advances in status beyond the hypothetical.

Even so, a failure to read the signs, sift the probabilities, or to evaluate the true state of international affairs is incredibly negligent, especially where governments, their advisors, relevant agencies and an investigative media are concerned.

Today, I seek to share some of what has been published — in Australia and beyond — over the past week; the objective isn’t to unduly frighten anybody, but given these matters are being postulated upon I feel it would be remiss not to continue to keep an eye on them.

Readers will know that a little over a week ago, I posted an article that in turn linked to an excellent piece by Tim Stanley, that originally appeared in The Telegraph in Britain; that piece theorised on the question of whether the world drew nearer to a nuclear apocalypse over the course of 2013.

Of course, for that to happen, their first must be a war, and it’s in this vein that I post the material to follow here today. As with my post on New Year’s Eve, I’m not going to comment to a great extent on these; the intention really is to provide additional material.

For those to whom the broad theme is of interest, however, most of these pieces are compelling reading.

First cab off the rank is the recent Brookings Essay, by Margaret MacMillan, entitled The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War, an academic effort that draws distinct parallels between the pre-1914 world political environment, and the one that exists today.

This article — from http://www.news.com.au, of all places — contains some surprisingly good links to other pertinent material (and it is, I will confess, where I initially obtained the link to Dr MacMillan’s essay).

The Daily Mail‘s international affairs editor, Max Hastings, picked up the theme of one of the world’s present hot spots — tensions between China and Japan over a few uninhabited islands in the South China Sea — as a potential flashpoint for a conflict that could easily spiral out of control in this piece published in the Mail a week ago.

Even the Fairfax press gets in on the subject, in a rational and intelligent piece, touching on the same subjects but from the differential perspective of the economic drivers that may contribute to the ignition of any conflagration that might erupt.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m fearmongering for the sake of it, I also include this article — again, from the Daily Mail — which details a terrifying incident off the British coast, involving a Russian cruise ship with a full clip of nuclear-tipped SLBMs on board; the truly terrifying thing about it, as readers will see, isn’t even the fact that the Russians sailed enough nuclear hardware to blast the UK out of existence so close. It’s where the British naval response was parked, and had the Russians been on a live mission, it would have ended very badly, very quickly, with nary a shot fired in response.

This column is predicated on following politics and associated issues both in Australia and in the world around us, wherever they arise; that obviously covers military matters, although the bulk of what we discuss here involves the dour grind of retail and electoral politics, with a smattering of peripheral issues thrown in for good measure.

All that said, we will continue to observe matters that relate to any prospect of global military conflict, as we have done intermittently for some time.

I trust the materials included with this post are of interest to readers, and I will be keen for any feedback you may wish to offer — or any points in the attached articles that may merit further discussion within this forum.

 

World Wrap: Did 2013 Carry Us Closer To Doomsday?

AT THE END of another year, I am for once unashamedly deferring; 2013 has been a difficult year across the world, and whilst I am an optimist when it comes to world affairs, I am also a realist. Did 2013 bring the world a little closer to a nuclear apocalypse? Today we consider a piece by British-American historian Dr Tim Stanley, and his summation of the year behind us — and its messages for the year ahead.

For once I’m not going to say much; I know I threaten often to be brief, only to find a 1,500 word essay on my screen when I have finished. Today I seek only to share — it is New Year’s Eve, after all — and to offer a few thoughts and some opinion.

The article I am linking to today by Dr Stanley appeared yesterday in the UK in The Telegraph, and I have chosen to share it because it not only evaluates the state of global affairs through conservative eyes, but considers them through the dual prisms of two distinct (but complementary) threads of conservative thought.

I urge readers to read it: makes a lot of sense.

There are a lot of the same subjects in Dr Stanley’s piece that we have touched on in this column: the benefits of globalisation and economic liberalism; the need to ensure wealth remains able to be created; the dangers of socialism; and some consideration of the value of conservatism, and why that noble school of thought applies as much today as it did in the days of Locke and Burke, and more recently expressed by the likes of Friedrich Hayek.

And Dr Stanley devotes much of his article to themes we talk about here whenever they are appropriate: specifically, the ever-volatile nature of global politics, and how easily a miscalculation could lead to trouble on an unprecedented scale; to be sure, these concerns cover much of his article, and I think it important to note that issues we have talked about here — the potential for military confrontation with Russia in Syria, the danger of North Korea, and the military adventures of China and their ramifications, to recall a few — are equally taken on by others in a mainstream context across the Western world.

Dr Stanley’s piece is written for a British audience, and conspicuously so, but it could as easily have been penned with Australian eyes in mind. Rather than pick it apart and talk about it in detail, I will be interested in any reader comments today: the discussion, such as it is, will flow from these, and I will involve myself in any debate that arises as those who do so peruse his article, and share their thoughts.

Is the glass half empty, or half full?

 

I should also like to take the opportunity to thank all readers of The Red And The Blue for their readership, loyalty and referrals during 2013 — in the full knowledge, of course, that many do not share my views, or the principles of conservatism that inform them. No matter: the brief here is to present issues for political discussion at the level of the “everyday Joe,” free (as far as restraint allows me!) of highbrow jargon or bogging down too far in advanced concepts that typically turn people off politics, and to get people talking about them. Our readership has increased by more than 350% this year, for which I thank you, and I ask you to invite those around you with an interest in the matters we talk about here to trial the site and to get involved in the conversation.

Politics is all around us, and not just confined to Canberra, or Spring Street, or the Melbourne Town Hall, or the equivalent of these where you live: it affects everything we do, and shapes our lives; in turn (and even if many fail to realise it), it is also directly shaped by each of us.

 

I trust all readers enjoy a festive New Year celebration tonight; be safe, and by all means drink (but leave one in the fridge at the end of the night for tomorrow, so to speak): my drop of choice at present is comprised of some fine beers from Bavaria (in breach of my usual red wine and Islay single malt habits) and I intend to enjoy several of them. Once the festivities are over, I look forward to picking our discussion up again later in the week.