By Prabasi Nepali
Last week, the Trump administration issued a new nuclear arms policy which commits to counter a surge by Russia to modernize its own nuclear forces which is touching off a new kind of nuclear arms race. This according to “The New York Times” “is based less on numbers of weapons and more on novel tactics and technologies, meant to outwit and out manoeuvre the other side.” The Russian modernization stays within the limits of the treaty committing the United States and Russia to keep their long-range nuclear arsenals at the lowest levels since the early Cold War and which, in fact, went into effect last week Monday. At the signing of this landmark nuclear treaty, the then US President Barack Obama had expressed hope that it would be a small first step towards deeper reductions, und ultimately a world without nuclear weapons.
Now, that optimism has been dashed to the ground, thanks to the outsize great power ambitions of an authoritarian Russian president and the incompetence and bungling of an American president – both holding the world hostage to possible nuclear Armageddon. Trump’s Pentagon plans a new era in which nuclear weapons are back in a big way. The new nuclear strategy plans for new low-yield nuclear weapons that proponents say are needed to match Russian advances and critics warn will be too tempting for a president – especially one as unbalanced as Trump – to use. The end-result is that the nuclear-arms limits that have now gone into effect only last week now appear to be the final end after three decades of reductions rather than only a stage in further and necessary reductions.
The new Pentagon strategy, known as the “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR), focuses intensely – and strangely – on Russia. It describes Vladimir Putin as forcing America’s hand to rebuild America’s nuclear force, as has also a series of other documents produced by Trump’s National Security Council and his Defence Department. The report contains a chilling warning about a new Russian-made autonomous nuclear torpedo that – while not in violation [strangely] of the terms of the treaty, known as “New Start” – was so designed to stealthily cross the Pacific in deep water, and undetected release a deadly cloud of radioactivity that would leave large parts of the American West Coast uninhabitable. The very idea that such a gruesome weapon could be planned is not only Machiavellian in the extreme, it is obnoxious and satanic, and also reflects on the planners and their enablers.
The Pentagon strategy also rejects President Obama’s commitment to make nuclear weapons a diminishing part of American defences. The limit on warheads – 1,500 deployable weapons [more than sufficient and far less than necessary to destroy the entire world] – that went into effect last Monday expires in 2021, and the new nuclear review expresses no eagerness for its renewal. We can only hope that till then there will be a change of leadership in both countries – for the better! The report describes future arms control agreements as “difficult to envision” in a world “that is characterized by nuclear-armed states seeking to change borders and existing norms” [hinting at Russia and China in the first instance] and in particular by Russian violations of a series of other arms-limitation treaties.
The new policy argues : “Past assumptions that our capability to produce nuclear weapons would not be necessary and that we could permit the required infrastructure to age into obsolescence have proven to be mistaken”, and, therefore, as a ‘logical’ consequence, “It is now clear that the United States must have sufficient research, design, development and production capacity to support the sustainment and replacement of its nuclear forces.” It is indeed regrettable that the leadership in both countries – at various levels, but essentially at the highest echelons – have not learnt the lessons of history – and are, therefore, condemned to relive it. The US could better allocate its scarce financial resources in upgrading its aging ‘normal’ infrastructure and in much needed humanitarian aid and crisis management around the world. Russia is headed towards financial ruin and state collapse a second time within half a century after the implosion of the Soviet Union.
The new development was greeted by establishment Republican defence experts, even some who were scathing of Trump’s threats to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, but were troubled that his administration was ignoring Russia’s nuclear modernization. Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear expert who served the George W. Bush administration and was an informal consultant to Pentagon officials who drafted the new policy, said pointedly: “This is a very mainstream nuclear policy” and argued that new low-yield weapons would deter Putin and make war less likely, rather than offer new temptations to Trump. However, Miller ignores that Trump was more likely to use the new weapons against North Korea, rather than Russia, to which and Putin he has a strange affinity.
In his State of the Union (SOTU) address in Congress last week Trump had hardly mentioned Putin [nor his human rights abuses and foreign and security policies machinations] and said nothing about Russia’s nuclear buildup. His continued reluctance to talk about Russia and its leader during his presidential campaign and his first year in office should have been a wake-up call for US Congress and especially the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. This should have been an eye-opener since Trump continues to reject imposing sanctions on Russia
mandated by Congress. This has no doubt raised deep suspicion about what is really behind his persistently friendly attitude toward Putin. And in spite of overwhelming evidence, Trump continues to deny any Russian involvement in the presidential elections of 2016. Since he still has not released his tax returns, there is intense speculation that Trump is beholden to Russia and can be blackmailed. In the face of such a nexus between domestic policy and national security, there seems to be a breakdown in the separation of powers, since Congress is unable/unwilling to act in the national interest and is actively shielding the president.
Trump’s new nuclear policy has also alarmed allies. An editorial in “The Mainichi” (Japan’s national daily) categorically states: “for the world’s greatest military power to expand its arsenal yet further will almost certainly trigger a backlash and military expansion in not just Russia and China, but also in places like Iran and North Korea. Rather than take that risk, it would be far safer and far more sensible to promote global disarmament including China and Russia.” The paper also points out that the Trump administration’s nuclear stance runs counter to the “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” . The Trump administration is definitely risking starting a ‘New Cold War’.
Even back home, there is unmitigated criticism of the Trump administration’s flawed reasoning: “ rather than laying out a plan to halt this slide into a more dangerous world and working to decrease reliance on nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) hastens its rise by accepting the reasoning of U.S. adversaries and affirmatively embracing nuclear competition” [Foreign Affairs]. Moreover, the NPR expands the circumstances in which the US would resort to nuclear weapons to include ‘ambiguously’ termed “non-nuclear strategic attacks” against infrastructure. There were even grave concerns that Trump’s retaliatory stance could raise the possibility of a disproportionate use of nuclear force, such as against a cyber attack.
According to Stephen M. Walt, professor of International Relations at Harvard, the more modern nuclear arsenal proposed by the NPR does not in any way make the United States safer. The only clear message the NPR sends to the rest of the world says: “Even if you are a continent-sized superpower with the world’s largest economy, the world’s most powerful conventional forces, no enemies nearby, and no powerful adversaries openly seeking to overthrow your government, you still need lots and lots of highly sophisticated and expensive nuclear weapons in order to be secure” [Foreign Policy]. Thus, from a long-term perspective, this approach can only be redundant and short-sighted!
Russia & U.S. Instigate New Arms Race
By Prabasi Nepali