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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – February 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Coyote in Litchfield County CT – February 2019 photo by Sharon Shea

For more than 30 years, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has been one of the cornerstones of the international security system. But, on February 1st, Trump announced that the US would suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty. Shortly thereafter, Russia’s President Putin announced that Russia will also officially suspend its treaty obligations.

Trump swings another wrecking ball! Defense One reported that Trump said that the US:

“Will move forward with developing…its own military response options and will work with NATO members and other allies to deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct.”

This means that Trump will start the development, production and deployment of formerly INF-banned weapons.

Until the treaty took effect in 1988, the US had hundreds of nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles, or GCLMs all over Europe. Today, all cruise missiles are either air or sea-launched. New GCLMs are likely to be returning soon. Contenders include converting the sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, and the air-launched Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM.

Walking away from the INF Treaty opens the door to both sides building land-based nuclear capable missiles with a range beyond 300 miles.

There are two things to think about: Cost, and Strategic necessity. Kingston Reif, a policy director at the Arms Control Association, said the cost of the new missile systems would be much higher than the $6 billion or so it cost in the 1980s.

On the subject of necessity, he says:

“The United States can already…threaten the same Russian targets that new ground-launched missiles prohibited by INF Treaty would….In addition, no European nation has agreed to host such a missile, which could take years to develop. And even if one in Eastern Europe did, such a deployment would be a significant source of division within the alliance—one Russia would be eager to try and exploit—be hugely provocative, and put missiles in a place where they would be especially vulnerable to Russian preemption…”

The downside to the US withdrawing from the treaty is that we currently have no strategy to prevent Russia from building and fielding even more and new intermediate-range missiles.

Since Russia already announced it will now build these new missiles, our NATO allies in Europe have decisions to make. They will have to pursue options to defend themselves, to mitigate the damage done by the collapse of the treaty.

We’re entering a new Cold War with Russia.

Some believe that the INF treaty is obsolete, because many nations are developing effective missiles and launching capabilities that will be outside the limitations of the INF. Since we all will continue to develop these technologies, maybe the best we can hope for is to negotiate new treaties that address this increasing lethality down the road.

OTOH, Trump and his neocons are doing everything they can to encircle Russia with missile bases while claiming the moral high ground. We should expect them to utilize Poland, the Baltic states, and possibly Ukraine (if they can get away with it), as forward missile bases.

They figure that since geography favors them, why negotiate if you can win? Russia already called our bluff. For this strategy to work, the US must threaten Russia from Europe while simultaneously putting Europe under our new missile thumb. It might work, but there are many moving parts.

Republicans of course supported Trump, cheering about the breakup of a treaty signed by Ronald Reagan. When Wrongo grew up, the threat of nuclear annihilation was real. We drilled for it in school. He then ran a nuclear missile unit in Europe at the height of the Cold War. These were formative experiences that implied very dangerous consequences.

And think about our domestic politics: If someone were to run in 2020 as anti-Cold War II, they would have to say we need to work with the Russians to find a peaceful way out of this mess. Trump will then run to their right, saying Russia must be stopped.

Scared yet? A presidency based on disruption will do that to you.

Time for your Saturday Soother. Try to unplug from all the data that are streaming into your life for a few minutes. Start by brewing up a strong cuppa Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($45.95/half pound) from the Big Island of Hawaii. You can see their plantation here.

Now settle back and listen to Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All” performed as a guitar instrumental by Gabriella Quevedo:

For those who may have forgotten the lyric, it includes this:

The winner takes all

It’s the thrill of one more kill

The last one to fall

Will never sacrifice their will

Think there will be winners in the new Cold War?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 22, 2018, Treaty Withdrawal Edition

The Daily Escape:

Autumn near Walpole, NH – October 2018 photo by knale

Happy Monday. Over the weekend, Trump announced that the US will be exiting the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987. The INF banned all US and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The weapons ban resulted in the destruction of 2,692 missiles. Washington demolished 846, and Moscow 1,846.

From the NYT:

But the pact has also constrained the United States from deploying new weapons to respond to China’s efforts to cement a dominant position in the Western Pacific and to keep American naval forces at bay. Because China was not a signatory to the treaty, it has faced no limits on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which can travel thousands of miles.

While the treaty was seen as effective, it’s hard to argue that the US is somehow obligated to remain in the INF treaty since we know that Russia has been pushing the edge of envelope for the last few years.

But, Russia’s behavior is just part of Trump’s calculation: His administration would like to develop a larger and more diverse portfolio of nuclear capabilities. It also has concerns about China, which isn’t subject to any arms control agreement, and they specifically rejected joining the INF.

As a result, Beijing has deployed a large number of intermediate and short-range conventional ballistic missiles, pointing them at US allies, including Taiwan.

Washington has focused on ballistic-missile defenses, but it seems that the Trump administration would prefer to respond with next-generation intermediate and short-range weapons. The US has done preliminary work on a new intermediate-range nuclear missile, and if deployed, it would also violate the INF.

It’s also far from clear where such new land-based weapons might be deployed. None of our European allies appear willing to accept them.

And there isn’t enthusiasm for US land-based missiles among our Asian allies. Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam all are unlikely to host new US intermediate range missiles. That would leave Guam, which sits 2,400 miles from Beijing and 1,800 miles from Shanghai, not a decisive strategic counter-move.

The only argument for Guam is that those missiles would reach targets in China much faster than weapons sent via Guam-based bombers, but they would still be slower than sea-based cruise missiles.

Walking away from weapons treaties has had adverse diplomatic and strategic consequences in the past. When the GW Bush administration announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, the Kremlin responded by withdrawing from the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its prohibition on land-based missiles carrying multiple warheads.

The Kremlin is now moving forward with deployments of new “heavy” land-based missiles that can carry ten or more warheads. Their purpose is to defeat US missile defenses. Likewise, the demise of the INF Treaty would only reinforce the current nuclear competition.

Is Trump doing a smart thing?

The INF Treaty was less about hobbling the US than it was about hobbling Russia. The treaty only covered land- and air-based systems. So the US and NATO held a strategic advantage with its navies.

The only advantage Russia had, and still maintains, is its large land mass that can hide huge numbers of mobile launchers. By withdrawing from the treaty, the US actually plays right into Moscow’s hands. Mobile launchers are notoriously difficult to track down. We can’t do it in North Korea, and we couldn’t do it in Iraq.

Trump thinks he’s playing hardball, but Wrongo thinks his business acumen has been sadly overplayed. Exiting the INF isn’t so good for the Americans. Republicans used to think that fewer international entanglements would allow the US to keep its defense budgets low.

The Trump-Bolton idea turns this on its head. In fact, when it comes to American military security, Trump’s idea relies on magical thinking. It’s not just that his plan isn’t good for national security, it’s also that the Trump administration aims to make the US a military powerhouse while cutting taxes.

Bolton’s aim seems to be to create the conditions that could lead to war, an extraordinarily dangerous game, considering the flakiness of his boss.

Wake up America! Here’s another reason why turning out to vote in November, and then voting to turn out as many of these Republican chicken hawks in DC as we can, is of ultimate importance.

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Monday Wake-up Call – May 23, 2016

The subject of the day is the continued saber-rattling by our military. Recently, two retiring US Generals made goodbye speeches indicating that Russia is the biggest threat facing America. As Crooked Timber said:

Russia? Really? I guess there ain’t no money in ISIS and Al Qaeda. You don’t need strategic bombers, huge mechanized armies and aircraft carriers to fight them.

Equally disturbing are the concurrent mind games being played in the military strategy establishment. Take the RAND Corporation. RAND has run numerous war games which pit Russia against NATO in the Balkans. Their conclusion is always the same: If Russian tanks and troops rolled into the Balkans tomorrow, outgunned and outnumbered NATO forces would be overrun in under three days. Scary!

RAND argues that NATO has been caught napping by a resurgent and unpredictable Russia, which has begun to boost defense spending after having seized the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and intervened in support of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. In their report RAND said:

The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members…

Underlying this, is the insanity of the geopolitical outlook that dominates the national security lobby in Washington. The same day as the RAND report was released, Defense Secretary Ash Carter unveiled plans to add more weapons and armored vehicles to pre-positioned stocks in Eastern Europe. The new $3.4 billion plan (that’s the annual cost folks) adds another brigade to the mix, but the soldiers would be based in the US, rotating in to Europe for a few months at a time. So, that’s politically acceptable, assuming the next president can find the money.

But, Carter’s commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of US European Command, released on his blog that there is no:

Substitute for an enduring forward deployed presence that is tangible and real. Virtual presence means actual absence.

Lots of agreement between these boys.

And, in an article in Politico Mark Perry discussed the testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee of a panel of senior Army officers, in which they claimed that the Army is now in danger of being “out-ranged and outgunned” in the next war that the Army is in danger of becoming “too small to secure the nation”. Yikes!

While their testimony made headlines in the major media, Politico reported that a large number of former senior Army officers, rolled their eyes:

That’s news to me…Swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles? Surprisingly lethal tanks? How come this is the first we’ve heard of it?

The unnamed General went on: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time…What a crock.

All of this is political fodder for Obama’s critics in Congress who complain that the President isn’t taking us into the next war fast enough.

So it’s time we all wake up to this maneuvering behind our backs. Maneuvering that is designed to have us spend waaay more money on defense, because, Putin.

To help you wake up, give a listen to a rarely-heard tune by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, “Ye Playboys & Ye Playgirls Ain’t a Gonna Change My World”, recorded live in 1963 at the Newport Folk Festival, when Dlyan was still a folk singer, two years before he would be booed off the main stage at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival:

Put in context of the times: Dylan was being called the “Voice of a Generation”. Seeger adds an endorsement of the fed-up young artist who was already one of the key singers of topical songs in the sixties. For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can listen to the tune here.

Sample Lyrics:

You insane tongues of war talk
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road.
You insane tongues of war talk
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Not now or no other time.

Please remember what Voltaire said:

 Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

THAT has always been the strategy of the military-industrial complex. Arguing over defense budgets, equipment procurement, force strength, is pointless.

Today, the money is just not there to do much more for the military.

The critical debate must be how to fix the economy, which drives the size and strength of our military.

And ultimately, our national security.

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Preparing for a New Land War in Europe

From 1970-1973, Wrongo ran a US Army nuclear missile unit in Germany. It was during the Cold War, and also during America’s involvement in Vietnam. Wrongo got lucky, spending his entire service in a cold war zone, not in a hot war zone.

The stated purpose of his unit was to provide air defense of the skies over Western Europe (WE). The enemy was the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, NATO’s strategy to defend W. Europe changed from reliance on conventional weapons to what was called “flexible response,” which included the first use of tactical nuclear weapons, like the type Wrongo’s unit had.

The doctrine of first use of nuclear weapons came about because NATO was vastly outnumbered in weapons and soldiers in WE. For example, the Warsaw Pact had more than 5 million soldiers and 72,000 tanks on the ground in Eastern Europe arrayed against NATO’s 32,000 tanks. And at its peak, the Soviet Union could deploy 10,000 aircraft against NATO’s 2,000.

Wrongo’s unit was part of a trip wire: If the Soviet Union launched an attack on WE, Wrongo’s job was to turn his air defense unit into a very accurate surface-to-surface nuclear weapon, taking out as much of the Soviet Union’s advancing tank forces as possible.

Fast forward to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its tanks, soldiers and planes were moved back to Russia from the satellite states. Much of that equipment was decommissioned, and most of the tank outfits were disbanded in 1998.

Now, 45 years after Wrongo served as part of the NATO tripwire, Moscow has reactivated the First Guards Tank Army. During the Cold War, the First Guards Tank Army was stationed in East Germany as part of the vanguard of a possible Warsaw Pact drive into Western Europe. According to Patrick Armstrong at Sic Semper Tyrannis: (parenthesis by the Wrongologist)

The 1st Guards Tank Army will be stationed in the Western Military District to defend Russia against NATO. It is very likely that it will be the first to receive the new Armata family of AFVs (newest generation of Russian tank) and be staffed with professional soldiers and all the very latest and best of Russia’s formidable defence industry. It will not be a paper headquarters; it will be the real thing: commanded, manned, staffed, integrated, exercised and ready to go.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu has named the activation of the new tank army one of Russia’s top priorities for 2016.

Why is Russia doing this? Well, under Clinton, we added Poland and three Baltic republics to NATO. Under GW Bush, we said we would deploy medium-range nuclear missiles to Poland, supposedly as a defense against Iran. That decision was later reversed by Obama. Under Obama, we threatened to add Ukraine to NATO.

Armstrong says the decision to re-create the tank army is an indication that Russia really does fear attack from the West and is preparing to defend itself against it. And why do they fear the West? Armstrong says it is about NATO’s continued expansion eastward. He points out that the Russians: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[Russia had]…planned for small wars, but NATO kept expanding; they argued, but NATO kept expanding; they [Russia] protested, but NATO kept expanding. They [Russia] took no action for years.

Until now. The defense site Southfront.org writes about the Russian military. They suggest that these moves reflect a change in Russian military doctrine:

The fighting in Ukraine demonstrated the advantage of having large and permanently established maneuver formations…Independently operating battalions, regiments, and brigades lacked the ability to deliver a knock-out punch, and coordinating a large number of such units was difficult for higher headquarters.

Could this be Putin’s “Star Wars” moment? Ronald Reagan got the Soviets to spend heavily to counter the apparent threat of Star Wars, America’s not-quite-real anti-ballistic missile technology.

Putin is now laying out a Russian military strategy for Europe that no NATO country wants to match, financially or militarily. He sees that NATO and the US are now committed to smaller, special operations forces, drones and cruise missiles when conducting military operations.

Maybe Putin recognizes and understands that the one thing NATO won’t do is field a real army.

And our wars of choice in the Middle East have gutted the US economy, and our warrior spirit. We have fought wars we couldn’t win, and we plunged entire regions of the world into chaos and terrorism.

Now, Putin confronts us with the need to make a strategic choice in Europe.

Any bets this will be discussed by our presidential candidates?

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