This could actually be viewed as a follow-up to the post from a couple of weeks back on the Pentagon‘s ‘Nuclear Posture Review’ and the threat of another Hiroshima-like event in our lifetimes.
In that instance, I was highlighting the insanity of what the NPR proposed and noting the very worrying change in language concerning nuclear weapons.
A lot of attention has been paid to Vladimir Putin’s state of the nation address on Wednesday, which has been construed by most Western media as having been overtly threatening. In part of the speech, Putin announced the existence of Russia’s new, expanded nuclear weapons and capabilities, suggesting that Russia now has superior nuclear capabilities to the United States and NATO and is perfectly capable of handling any attack against it.
Most of the media treated Putin’s announcements as a direct threat against the West. The Guardian went with the headline “Putin threatens US arms race with new missiles declaration”.
This widespread coverage, for the most part, was missing the point entirely (and deliberately).
Whether Putin’s claims about Russian strategic and nuclear capacities are entirely true or whether he was just saber-rattling is something I wouldn’t know.
But the point is, firstly, that Putin was largely responding to statements and policy changes that have been made by the Pentagon and the US military-industrial complex in recent weeks (in particular, the details of the Nuclear Posture Review that I covered here a few weeks ago); and, secondly, that Putin framed most of this address in the context of wanting the United States and the West to avoid conflict or escalation and move towards more diplomatic activity.
On the first point, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the NPR was a highly worrying and very threatening document, which marked a conscious shift in language and policy regarding nuclear weapons and which was basically advocating pre-emptive or ‘first use’ nuclear strikes by the United States (extraordinarily, this even included as a response to non-nuclear threats such as a cyber attack).
Given that Russia was clearly implied as a potential target in such a scenario, it is no mystery why Putin has come back with this kind of posturing.
Whether the NPR was intended merely as a mixture of saber-rattling and warning – and whether, likewise, Putin’s statements on Wednesday are meant as the same – I don’t know: I assume neither Russia’s or the United States’ leadership has any intention of *actual* nuclear war.
I acknowledge too that my assumption might be naive.
Putin’s announcements in fact are wholly in-line with what the whole point (and prevailing philosophy) of nuclear weapons was meant to be for decades: specifically, that they are intended as deterrants. Clearly, Putin’s address went in this direction precisely because he is trying to deter the US and NATO from pursuing any foolish policies or escalating things too far.
Putin’s position is therefore the sane one and the one that is in keeping with all the justifications for nuclear weapons that pro-nuclear countries – including the United States – were citing for decades.
By comparison, the NPR seemed to do away with that long-established philosophy entirely and advocated pre-emptive or ‘first use’ nuclear strikes. And yet, as noted then, the media paid virtually no attention at all to the NPR – it certainly didn’t raise alarm bells or ask moral questions. And yet Putin’s address is being spun as the Russian leader making nuclear threats against the West – which, in essence, he is; but there is context and nuance to all of this that most media coverage is choosing not to take note of.
And, again, the other point is that Putin’s statement was clearly intended as a warning and even a call to diplomacy: in the speech, he stressed the point that Russia would not have needed to roll out all these new weapons and systems had the US and its allies not continued its provocations and had it not continued to ignore all of Russia’s attempts at diplomacy.
These latest statements also need to be seen in context of previous addresses, both in Russia and at the UN: Putin has been entirely consistent in that respect, with previous warnings having been made – in clear language – about US threats and provocations and about Western regime-change operations and interventions in the Middle East that had illegally overthrown soveriegn states and created the massive spread of terrorism and jihadism and massively jeapordised the security of multiple nations.
“Nobody wanted to talk with us on the core of the problem. Nobody listened to us,” Putin said on Wednesday. “Now you listen!”
It does sound threatening, right? But it isn’t Putin or Russia that is talking about ‘first use’ options or pre-emptive strikes. And we should note that it was also reported a few weeks ago (by the highly respected Consortium News, for example), that Russians were genuinely “spooked” by the Pentagon’s NPR document and its dramatic shift in language and policy that seemed to be advocating pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
It wouldn’t surprise me that Putin is trying to stand up directly to that threat: either by warning the US that Russia’s nuclear capabilities would mean a great deal of mutual destruction or by trying to frighten US policy-makers away from the ideas laid out in the NPR.
The indications in prior weeks were also that Russians were worried about the specific NPR reference to a nuclear response to a cyber attack: particularly becuase Russia is involved in ‘cyber warfare’ (as is the United States) and is frequently accused by the US and the West of cyber-related crimes. The Consortium piece highlights Russian anxieties about possible ‘false-flags’ involving cyber warfare that could be blamed on Russia.
Given the highly dubious official story of the MH-17 tragedy (see here), the idea of a false-flag to justify extreme action against Russia isn’t necessarily far-fetched.
The real danger now is that the Pentagon’s NPR ‘lowering of the threshold for employing nuclear weapons’ means, in theory, that a nuclear attack (and nuclear war) could erupt over things that have never before been considered grounds for so extreme an action.
In essence, as I said in the article on the NPR, the Pentagon’s newly-reconfigured policy is *actually* insane: and is a total departure from decades of established or accepted ‘wisdom’ (I use that word loosely) regarding nuclear weapons, which were supposedly all about detterance and about maintaining a ‘balance of power’ by the threat of mutually-assured destruction, ensuring that such mass-destructive weapons would never be used pre-emptively.
But, as noted at the time, there was virtual media silence on the subject: whereas, the same outlets have been much more attentive to Putin’s address on Wednesday, as if Putin is just saying all this stuff out of sheer super-villaininess.
Also, on February 21st, the UK’s Minister of Defence, Gavin Williamson, announced that Britain is changing its core defence strategy from one that’s focused on threats posed by non-state terrorists (like the Islamic State group) to one that’s targeted instead against three countries: Russia, China and North Korea. He suggested that the massive increase in military spending that will be needed will have to be drawn from other areas of government spending, including anti-terrorist operations and even health services.
The headline in The Times: “Russia ‘is a bigger threat to our security than terrorists'”.
It wasn’t clear, however, what the perceived threat was: whether it was military or whether it was a reference to cyber attacks.
I don’t often mention it here, but there is also a school of thought in conspiracy-theory circles that the entire Russia/United-States enmity thing isn’t actual real, but is a kind of staged scenario played out with Putin as ‘controlled opposition’ – the purpose, I guess, being to maintain artificial conflict and mutual ‘threat’ (to keep each respective establishment in power and able to justify their respective military budgets) and to bring the global situation to some specific, planned point of crisis.
A blogger friend of mine is adamant about this being the case: I don’t subscribe to that theory, however. All of the Russia-related provocation, tension, military manuevering and propaganda of the last several years seems entirely real to me.
Although, in fairness to that theory, it does seem unthinkable that either the United States or Russia would actually nuke each other (if they didn’t do so in the entirety of the Cold War, would either of them really resort to it now?): which would, I guess, suggest all of this might be pantomime.
But I’m still not convinced.
For the record, I am not a Putin apologist or an apologist for Russia. There’s a lot I don’t like about Russia in terms of domestic Russian politics. And I don’t view Russia as a real democracy (the way I’ve had it put to me by some Russians is “an emerging democracy”).
And I also don’t deny that there is a genuinely felt (and legitimate) fear of Russia in certain parts of Europe, like Estonia and Latvia, where populations have very real and very bad memories of being under Soviet occupation and of Russian domination. I have a very close friend who now lives in Estonia, and he tells me that most of the people he knows there are always worried about Russia one day invading – and these basic fears from normal people are deep-seated and pre-date any US or NATO-based propaganda campaign to amplify or incite fear of Russia (which also is going on – but it is playing on strongly-held fears that were already genuinely there).
But, in the current state of affairs (and I’m only addressing the current state of affairs), it is not Russia that has been making the threats.
In fact, Russia has been far more disposed towards diplomacy, peace-seeking solutions and reconciliation than the United States or most of the NATO countries have been.
And when we look at Putin’s nuclear posturing (which, again, was directly in response to the Pentagon’s nuclear posturing), we should also understand that the Russian government has made lots of efforts in the passed several years to establish positive relations with the United States.
And the overriding and broader dynamic of how Russia is portrayed and treated by the United States and the West is encapsulated entirely in the dynamics of how Russia’s involvement in Syria has been portrayed.
While Western coverage of Syria generally portrays the moral bankruptcy of Russia’s military intervention for the sake of a ‘brutal dictator’ and the barbarity of its indiscriminate bombing of, say, Aleppo (no different to the United States’ bombing of, say, Mosul, in terms of civilian casualties and damage), it never acknowledges the amount of times – prior to its military intervention – that Russia tried to broker a settlement in Syria or act as a middleman for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Russia waited years before it went into Syria militarily, all the while it was desperately scrambling around to enourage or arrange diplomatic solutions and even trying to steer the United States away from another failed regime-change or another collapse of a sovereign state.
This was also the case in Libya, where – despite its opposition to the NATO intervention – Russia stayed out of it and seemed to be giving France, Britain, the United States and co the benefit of the doubt, despite mounting suspicions that the NATO powers were trying to assassinate Libya’s leader and force a regime change.
Contrary to some perceptions, Putin’s main interest in Syria is not simply to prop up the Assad regime or family: but to prevent another collapsed state and avoid another Libya or Iraq (Russia also has strategic interests, of course, but that’s by-the-by).
For years prior to any Russian military intervention, the Russians appeared to be the only grown-ups in the room.
That very much seems to be carrying over into this heightened nuclear threat business too.
As with Syria – where Russian officials spent years trying to find non-military solutions and trying to encourage diplomacy – the Russian leadership is still constantly calling for diplomacy, normalisation, reconciliation and a backing-away from provocations. The threats made by Putin on Wednesday were entirely deterrant in nature, so as to encourage a renewed focus on diplomacy and sane relationships between so-called ‘super-power’ countries (and to give credit to Donald Trump, he appeared to be desirous of this too, at least in regard to Russia specifically – though not China).
The reason I highlight all of this is because, just as Russia eventually went into Syria militarily (after years of failed diplomacy), Russia will likely eventually do whatever it has to do to protect itself when all attempts at diplomacy and normal relations fail – even if the US was to ever try to follow-through on the daft ideas laid out in the NPR.
And that seems, essentially, to be what Putin was saying in his address: let’s talk, let’s be grown-ups, let’s not do anything crazy – but be warned that we have big weapons too.
So, now that the Pentagon has done its very worrying posturing and Putin and Russia have done their counter-posturing, let’s hope all parties are sufficiently startled enough to bring their minds away from weapons of mass destruction and towards diplomacy and peace-solutions instead. If there’s one thing President Trump was right about (and it’s probably only one thing), it’s that the United States and Russia need to step back from provocations and start talking like grown-ups.
The alternatives are too stupid, and too dangerous, to think about.
Read more: ‘In the Hands of Madmen: Another Hiroshima & a Silent Media‘, ‘Saudi Arabia, Iran & the Middle East Conflict Going Nuclear‘, ‘Hiroshima and the Destroyer of Worlds: Was it Justified?‘, ‘Is a North Korea False-Flag Imminent…?‘ ‘MH-17: What Really Happened…?‘