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Saturday, 27 June 2015

From Freeze to Nuclear Hot – The New Arms Race is on

If someone had been put on cryogenic sleep in the mid 1980ies and had been woken up this year, he might have thought that he hadn’t been sleeping for very long. Apart from the obvious technological changes and the different fashion and haircuts, the political situation is pretty much the same as before: two superpowers competing with each other and investing into an arms race, with a looming threat of a nuclear confrontation. 

For everyone else who has not been sleeping for the past 30 years and had witnessed the recent developments between the West and Russia, he will feel the same tensions like back then. Russia is back on the arena as a main advisory to the US, there is a visible East-West antagonism with its main front in the middle Europe, and we got new coalition constellations dividing the world in two halves.

Despite recession – Get new weapons
Just very recently, Russia has announced to acquire new and more modern nuclear weapons, with cutting edge tracking technology and carrier systems to carry multiple nuclear warheads in a single missile, making it possible to attack multiple targets in one hit.

In the view of Russia’s current economic downturn, this new investment strategy sounds like a final and ludicrous symbol of power, just before imminent economic and political collapse.  Russia is currently heavily investing in new weapons’ systems, despite the sanction regime from the West, the lacking financial assets from abroad, and the low oil price. From a power perspective, investments in new and modern nuclear weapons are for sure a provocative act towards NATO’s troop enforcements in the Baltics, right at Russia’s doorstep. It is another development of an increasing tension that triggers a similar reaction by the other side, or even escalating it to another, higher level.

It is a small step escalation process, and even though other nuclear powers are also in the process of modernizing their nuclear arsenals, Russia’s announcement is set in an atmosphere in which we can observe a slow but steady increase in heat. The US and NATO have already announced to respond in an “adequate” way Russia’s announced arms race.

The US ready to respond with more sabre rattling
During his visit to Germany, US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter re-addressed the willingness of NATO alliance. “We will face Russia if it tries to implement a Soviet style sphere of influence”. Carter supports this line combined with the announcement to station heavy armed forces for NATO troops. In addition to this, NATO conducted the combined manoeuver “Noble Jump” with a quick response unit in Western Poland, with around 2,100 troops from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and the US. This quick response unit is supposed to be deployed within two to five days to any crisis region.

Eager to demonstrate unity and striking ability among the alliance, the message sent to Moscow will most definitely be understood as a provocative act. NATO’s defence strategy is currently focusing on strengthening its immediate borders to Russia and those to the Ukraine – in case of a further Russian intervention in Ukraine itself. 

It should be pointed out that this threat perception is purely a matter of the observing perspective. From a Western perspective, Russian intervention (whenever there is any), is unacceptable, but it is perfectly fine to strengthen their own military presence at their own borders to Russia and anticipate that everyone will agree.

From an outsider’s perspective, the question is justified why the general public assumes that whatever the West – or respectively NATO and the US – does is per se correct and whatever Russia does is wrong by definition? The answer is as simple as frustrating: because the media presents it like that. It is easier to believe that Russia is the ultimate enemy and Putin just – another – crazy guy that needs to be stopped. For the US however, there is one fundamental problem with Russia, compared to previous foreign policy actions in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya.

The US in a gridlock – The American Empire hitting its limits
Unlike Hussein, Bin Laden, Gaddafi or any other dictator the US has ever overthrown in the past, the same strategy can surely not be used for Putin. Getting into a conflict with Russia is the worst case scenario for any western country, as is would inevitably lead to an escalation with incalculable consequences.

The US itself is unsure of what strategy to apply now regarding Russia. Finding itself back in the Cold War and in an arms race, they can only apply one rational option: pull back the aggression rhetoric and resume intensive negotiations with Russia, but above all stopping its hidden interventions in Europe to trigger more tensions. But regarding the US’ constant power driven foreign policy as an empire to ensure that no one could ever challenge them as a superpower, the extended doctrine of intervention wherever and whenever necessary will continue to apply, disregarding the adversary or the potential escalating risks.

Sadly, Russia does the same in its power struggle, sorting out its own strategic interest zones and facing an increasingly growing threat potential on its western borders. Nevertheless, Russia’s foreign policy under Putin clearly marks the return of Russia as a global player on the geostrategic chess board and an end to the US’ lonely reign of ludicrous short-termed foreign policy action – a situation the US has to learn to accept for the future. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

The Nuclear Overkill – Lower stock-pile, more Efficiency
Leading nuclear powers are currently modernizing their stock piles and making them more efficient, rather than continuing to scrap them as provided by existing international nuclear disarmament and control regimes. The idealism of a nuclear free world – as even propagated by US President Obama in his infamous “Global Zero” address in Prague in April 2009 – has been completely eradicated and now, the fear of falling behind in the arms race is consuming any remaining common sense and multilateral obligation to ensure stability and peace through disarmament.

According to a very recent analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), there are currently around 15,850 nuclear weapons in the world. Of these 15,850 the US has around 7,260 and Russia around 7,500 nuclear weapons. The remaining weapons are spread among the other nuclear powers China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea – with a limited number permanently stationed in other European NATO countries due to the mandatory nuclear sharing agreement – including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Even though this number seems tiny compared to the humongous stock-piles during the peak of the former Cold War (with more than 60,000 nuclear weapons by the mid-1980ies), it is still enough to utterly destroy the entire planet earth – twice or three times over.

Both sides, the US and Russia, are deliberately violating the 2010 New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) which they have both signed on mutual understanding to reduce the threat of nuclear destruction. No side is talking of arms reductions anymore; the only language both are using is the language of threatening by rising deterrence. The pressure in the pot is increasing, and it only needs a little spark or a misunderstood message to ignite it.
In short: welcome back to the 1980ies!

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