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19.11.2018. World in a Year of the Pig

The situation in the sphere of strategic stability – the term traditionally applied to measure the threat of a nuclear war – has been degrading fast in recent years. I insist that the present-day level of threat is comparable with the times immediately after the Caribbean Crisis, which nearly brought the world to a global disaster. The situation had been probably even worse before the crisis, in the 1950s, than it is now, as an unbridled arms race and violent hostility were in full swing then. But the present state of things is definitely more dangerous than in 1914 when a chain of errors sparked World War I, the centenary since the end of which we have commemorated recently. The current situation is aggravated by the United States’ apparent desire to destroy the moderate instruments of arms control that were devised in previous years to scale down the nuclear threat. Washington has announced its pullout from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The vector of recent developments is pointing towards the 1950s and 1914, and requires a radical correction of world policy. Struggle for peace should become its highlight. 

Strategic Shifts

Over thirty-five or so years after the end of World War II the power in different countries was in the hands of those who remembered its horrors and who feared war, especially its nuclear version. One may chuckle at the struggle for peace waged by that generation of people and leaders but their efforts actually helped maintain peace. Standing at the helm of power now are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of WW II soldiers; the fear of war has faded considerably, and bellicose statements are multiplying. The habit of living in peace and the seemingly harmless computer or televised war games make society’s resistance feeble, while the troublesome uncertainty in the minds of elites and the masses call for simple solutions.

The situation has been further aggravated by a sharp deterioration of the quality of the ruling classes, particularly in the West, over the last two to three decades. While the problem is self-apparent in the U.S., Europe is no better. Just compare the Old World’s leaders of four to three decades ago with today’s ones

Strategic Shifts

Over thirty-five or so years after the end of World War II the power in different countries was in the hands of those who remembered its horrors and who feared war, especially its nuclear version. One may chuckle at the struggle for peace waged by that generation of people and leaders but their efforts actually helped maintain peace. Standing at the helm of power now are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of WW II soldiers; the fear of war has faded considerably, and bellicose statements are multiplying. The habit of living in peace and the seemingly harmless computer or televised war games make society’s resistance feeble, while the troublesome uncertainty in the minds of elites and the masses call for simple solutions.The situation has been further aggravated by a sharp deterioration of the quality of the ruling classes, particularly in the West, over the last two to three decades. While the problem is self-apparent in the U.S., Europe is no better. Just compare the Old World’s leaders of four to three decades ago with today’s ones.

A uniquely fast redistribution of power in the world in the last fifteen or twenty years is also a powerful destabilizer. One might think that fairly recently the West had scored an unconditional victory. However, right now it is engaged in fierce defense. It looks like the motto of the past decades “How to steer the rise of the New” has to be replaced by “How to manage the decay of the Old.”

Two globalist ideologies of the 20th century, Communism and Liberalism, have collapsed. Nationalism of every description is filling the vacuum soon enough. The tendency is boosted by the rise of Asia, a continent of nation states. Old conflicts are being unfrozen and news ones are flaring up there: between Japan and its neighbors, China and India, Sunni monarchies and Iran. 

The situation in military technological field is more than alarming, too. A chain of attacks on the countries that had renounced nuclear weapons, above all Iraq and Libya, have given a powerful momentum to the positions of those who are seeking to obtain the nukes. The U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, its recent quitting of the Iran nuclear deal and intent to abandon the INF treaty is washing out the base of nonproliferation.

A highly dangerous cyber weapons race has begun. Some states possibly obtained a capacity of destroying economies and societies with these weapons. 

New-generation non-nuclear weapons, which are de facto strategic and that blurs the difference between a nuclear  and a conventional war, have been developed and their deployment is underway.

An alarming trend to apply robotics in weaponry involving the use of artificial intellect to armaments has begun.  It eliminates the borderline between war and peace and slackens political control and the leaders’ responsibility for their actions.

True, the arms control regime set up in the 1970s and 1980s had drawbacks. In a bid to gain more trump cards for bargaining, the parties in negotiations quite frequently resorted to a buildup of armaments, increased defense spending. The negotiation process largely proceeded from a contrived criterion of parity, or numerical equality of armaments and armed forces of the parties concerned. This was especially senseless in the case of talks on the armed forces and armaments in Europe where Napoleon and the Russian  Alexander Suvorov had invariably defeated big armies and where the 300 Spartans had contained the 100,000-strong Persian army. 

Yet generally the process of arms control was useful enough – it helped improve the political climate and predictability.

Now it is moribund, however. First NATO refused to upgrade the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, although the armies and weapons stockpiles of the former War Treaty Organization countries and some former Soviet republics had turned up on its side. The U.S. pullout from the ABM Treaty in 2003 dealt a mortal blow to the process. This document was the backbone of the entire concept of strategic armed forces reductions. Predictably, the efforts to regain preponderance flopped. Russia roused itself and launched modernization of its nuclear and near-nuclear forces by creating new-generation systems that could effectively overcome any now feasible antimissile defenses. President Putin mentioned them in his much-quoted address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018. These systems make the giant allocations for strategic forces upgrading planned by the U.S. meaningless. One can say Russia is winning the arms race so far without getting caught up in it. 

And now there is the possible renunciation of the INF Treaty. It is highly likely that the last treaty on the reduction of strategic offensive armaments, the New START, will be eventually renounced, too. The U.S. steps have had several objectives. First are the efforts to regain military superiority that underlay the West’s 500-years-long dominance in world politics, the economy, culture, and ideology. Even more obvious is its desire to clear the pathway for an amassed modernization of strategic systems. 

Also, no one makes a secret of the U.S.’ desire to draw Russia and China into an arms race. I am confident that some in American strategic circles believe the two countries’ reciprocal mistrust will grow once they are goaded into creating new-generation medium-range systems. Then Moscow and Beijing will inevitably see them as possibly targeting each other.

Nor is it ruled out that genetic weapons exist already. This implies that they are capable of infusing covert infections into seeds and thus causing disastrous shortfalls in crops and – possibly in the future – wielding hypothetical damage (which one?) on ethnic and social groups. 

These intrinsically dangerous strategic and political shifts are accompanied by a spiteful propaganda war that demonizes the opposite side, particularly Russia. This propagandist outrage strongly savors of psychological preparations for war, although it may also have other root causes, above all lying in the internal problems.

The summation of the aforesaid factors leads to an unambiguous conclusion: we are amid an acute prewar situation.

What to do?

Russia’s foreign policy, despite all its successes in the Middle East and in the military-political sphere, is not devoid of drawbacks. Its errors must be the subject of a separate article. I will also refrain from discussing here the absence of a strategy for accelerated economic growth that could offer the main response to the new Cold War launched against us. Let me focus on some guidelines for Russia’s foreign policy, which I find most important and feasible.
If Russia is to maintain political dialogue with NATO, a bloc that has committed a chain of aggressions, it should necessarily include the problem of reparations and compensations for the victims of the Alliance’s aggressions and reach beyond Crimea or Donbass. But dialogue between the military – more active than the one at present – is crucial. If Russia continues keeping an envoy to NATO, he should be a general assisted by civilian advisors. 
It is also worthwhile reducing military activity in the West and resisting the provocations that the circles interested in replication of the past Cold War in the Atlantic world and in relations with Russia will continue spouting.
What is definitely not worthwhile doing is rebutting the subject of our modest, albeit relatively efficient, defense efforts. We should point out relentlessly that NATO countries spend literally twenty times more for defense than we do and that their manpower under arms heavily outweighs ours.  
It might be useful to offer dialogue on European security to the EU, which is seeking to become an actor in this sphere. We have many common or even identical interests. Dialogue would make it easier to prevent the sliding of their aspirations into a confrontation with Russia.  
There is no reason to react briskly with by defense technologies to the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty. The latter move brings no gains to anyone. Still the Americans should pay the maximum price for it: they must come before the world community what they really are, namely, the main challenge to international security and strategic stability. 

 If there is a need for more armaments, they can be deployed somewhat later. A similar line of action would be appropriate in case of non-prolongation of the Last START treaty by Washington. 
But in any case, we need a change in the conceptual approach to the place that the process of arms reduction has in the system of instruments for ensuring security. A return to its previous form is impossible, specifically because of the Americans’ destructive position in this issue. The problem of what is to be counted and how has always been knotty; today it has simply become unsolvable due to more complex modern weapon systems, blurred distinctions between them, and the growing number of strategic actor-nations.
And, of course, Russia has to part with the principle of parity. It will probably make sense to maintain a part of the strategic arsenals inherited from the past – sea-launched and ground-launched ballistic missiles with multiple warheads and strategic aviation – along with upgrading and expanding their capabilities. They are essential for maintaining Russia’s status and for keeping up the opposite side’s fear of an unavoidable massive response to aggressive actions. Extremely useful for the purpose are also submarine-torpedoes with huge warheads that can spend years lying in wait off the shores of the countries that conduct hostile policies, and the new heavy missiles that can attack from anywhere.
Otherwise, it is important to move into a gray zone. Openness brings benefits in theory by making the strategic situation more predictable. But it brings them first and foremost to the wealthier side that has an ability to lead in the arms race and to dictate its pace and priorities. The USSR tried to match the opponents, including in the maintenance of parity, and it overstrained itself. If the opposite side opts for a policy of enmity, rushes into an arms race in a pursuit of the chimera of superiority, and treats arms control agreements disdainfully, there is no use playing by the old rules then. Putting more emphasis on asymmetrical – partly concealed and less expensive – options would be a better response. If the efforts to stop the arms race fail, it is much better to win in it by artfulness and stealth rather than numerical build up. It might be useful to use the concept of ‘strategic ambiguity’, under which the other side does not know whether you have reached into your pocket for a candy, a handkerchief or a gun. China largely abides by this course of action, as it hides away its nuclear potential and capabilities in the cyber sphere.

The proposed line of conduct is not optimal, of course. It certainly raises risks. Yet it would be expensive and senseless to continue moving down the old path of the arms race and arms reduction talks, especially when dealing with parties which cannot be trusted at all.   
A Russia-China-U.S. trilogue on measures for maintaining international strategic stability might offer a partial future  alternative to the old process of arms control. Should Beijing and Washington agree to it, other strategically important nuclear and nearly-nuclear powers could be invited to join it afterwards. This format should be supported by a  network of “hotlines” that link the militaries of the leading countries. The purpose should be to avert an accidental escalation of a conflict or a provocation.
Instead of restrictions through treaties on arms reductions, the sides might go over at a certain point to coordinated unilateral steps. It would make sense trying to restrict some areas of the arms race, for instance, in space and in genetic weapons.
Such efforts will hardly bring immediate results, but work must be done for the sake of the future. We are evidencing a dramatic change of historical eras when the “losing” parties make a ploy of all the tools – military, political, economic, and informational – to halt the course of history or to turn it back.  As for the “winning” parties, they feel unsure of their victory, of its true meaning and of how they can enjoy its fruits. The main task at present is to preclude a new major war that can destroy both those who are winning so far and those who are losing and sign an end to the history of humankind.
That is why all the conscientious forces and countries – and Russia in the first place – should make struggle for peace their top political priority. It must embrace efficacious deterrence, the establishment of multilateral systems for communication between the military and politicians, and exposures (please excuse me for sound so old fashioned) of the forces and countries that fan confrontation and unleash a new arms race. It is important to wake up humankind from lethargic strategic parasitism – the habit of living in peace – and to activate its immune functions. Naturally, this old/new struggle should rely on modern techniques and technologies. As for the ways of conducting it, I invite media and public relations people to ponder them.
Calls for a new struggle with the swelling threat of war come these days practically from no one but the “old guard” who averted nuclear annihilation in the past but who failed to lay down a durable security system after the previous Cold War, and who lost peace. Now the task is to bring younger people into this struggle, those who are still asleep, although the war is threatening them more than others.
Struggle for peace is not nostalgia for the young days. I feel profound revulsion against the falsehood and enmities of the past Cold War. But the foolishness, naïveté and trust in sheer luck we have been demonstrating over the period that followed it are shameful. No one but we will be able to defend our national and fundamental global interests.

 

The article was originally published in "Rossiyskaya Gazeta" №7723 (260) on November 19, 2018.