As mainstream media attention largely focuses on complex entanglements destabilizing the Middle East, the United States continues to advance a rather aggressive agenda against Russia through its NATO allies in the Balkans and beyond. While an amassing of NATO troops in states bordering the U.S.’ Cold War foe might be troubling news in itself, an examination of several factors provides ample reason for vigilance.
On Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the alliance would be sending 4,000 troops to the Baltic states and Poland after nervous nations called for increased NATO presence following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Germany, the U.S., the U.K., and an as-yet unnamed fourth nation will deploy troops to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland at some point in 2017. But the build-up won’t be limited to those areas.
“We are looking into how we can increase our presence in the Black Sea region,” Stoltenberg explained to reporters prior to Tuesday’s meeting of the defense ministers. “We have already increased our presence with more air-policing, with assurance measures, with more naval presence and with more exercises.
“But we are also looking into what more we can do. And we are discussing and addressing an offer from Romania that they can provide the framework, the headquarters for a brigade that can then organize and facilitate NATO activities in the region, including exercises and also assurance measures.”
Following the meeting, the Secretary-General told the press, “I welcome the commitments made by many allies today to contribute.”
Russia, however, understandably sees the bolstering of troops — particularly in the Black Sea region — in a different light.
“This is not NATO’s maritime space and it has no relation to the alliance,”Russia’s director on European affairs, Andrey Kelin, told Interfax.
At a meeting of the Atlantic Council last month, Stoltenberg asserted the U.S. and E.U., as Zero Hedge paraphrased, “have the right in the form of NATO to defend its territories on foreign soil” in regard to Russia. This muddied stance — positing offense behind the thin veil of taking defensive measures — has generated concerns among policy critics who see such moves as poking the Cold War hornet’s nest and capable of provoking military conflict. And for good reason.
While geopolitical wrangling through NATO continues, the U.S. has initiated a sweeping secret project called The Russia New Generation Warfare — an “analysis of how Russia is reinventing land warfare in the mud of eastern Ukraine,” as DefenseOne described — or, a study tasked with modernizing ground capabilities to counter perceived superiority of Russian forces. Director of the U.S. Army’s Capabilities Integration Center, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster describes the impetus for the project — lack of preparedness — as if ground conflict with Russia in this new Cold War is a virtual foregone conclusion.
“We spend a long time talking about winning long-range missile duels,” McMaster explained, noting such strategy doesn’t account for what happens after such a bombardment. What the U.S. needs, he said, is an increase in, as well as better, artillery.
“We’re outranged by a lot of these systems and they employ improved conventional munitions, which we are going away from,” he said. “There will be a 40- to 60-percent reduction in lethality in the systems that we have. Remember that we already have fewer artillery systems. Now those fewer artillery systems will be less effective relative to the enemy. So we need to do something on that now.”
McMaster’s concerns surround updating capabilities of ground operations to align and preferably surpass those of Russia; but the greatest threat — the one that has frozen the Doomsday Clock at three minutes to midnight — is the potential for escalation to nuclear war. And as hyperbolic as that may sound, either U.S.- or Russian-instigated nuclear war isn’t at all the outside possibility it had been for years following the first Cold War.
Though a nuclear attack as a first-strike act of aggression might not happen anytime soon, as Seth Baum, executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, explains the situation, aggression should be the least of our concerns.
“The fact that no nuclear war has ever happened does not prove that deterrence works, but rather that we have been lucky,” Baum warned.
Inadvertent nuclear war actually presents a far greater threat than a basic act of aggression with nuclear missiles. In fact, accidents in judgment around the world put us all at risk a startling number of times each year. U.S. and NATO tacitly provoking Russia through the installation of bases and troop buildup flanking Russian borders, in the context of accidental nuclear war, constituted a major factor in the decision by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the Doomsday Clock to the brink of midnight.
According to the latest available data, Baum explained, between 1977 and 1983, false alarms — moments when one nation or another had nearly launched nuclear warheads in response to faulty information another had already done so — occurred between 43 and 255 times each year. While statistics more current than 1983 remain classified, the posturing between NATO and Russia makes the sheer number of false alarms a pertinent cause for vigilance.
“Russia understands as well as China (and U.S. strategists, for that matter) that the U.S. missile defense systems near Russia’s borders are, in effect, a first-strike weapon, aimed to establish strategic primacy — immunity from retaliation,” Professor Noam Chomsky explains in his latest book, Who Rules the World? “Perhaps their mission is utterly unfeasible, as some specialists argue. But the targets can never be confident of that. And Russia’s militant reactions are quite naturally interpreted by NATO as a threat to the West.
“One prominent British Ukraine scholar poses what he calls a ‘fateful geographic paradox’: that NATO ‘exists to manage the risks created by its existence.’”
Chomsky somewhat ominously adds, “The threats are very real right now.”
With President Obama’s nuclear weapons modernization budget topping the $1 trillion mark, critics question the needless stoking of Cold War rivalries through a de facto renewed arms race.
“Both Russia and the United States are now officially and publicly using the other side as a justification for nuclear weapons modernization programs,”Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project, told theIntercept in an email.
This sentiment echoed that of David Culp, a legislative representative with the Quaker-affiliated Friends Committee on National Legislation, whom the Intercept cited:
“The increased spending on U.S. nuclear weapons is already provoking similar responses from Russia and China. We are slowly slipping back into another Cold War, but this time on two fronts.”
Geostrategic wrangling along Russia’s borders isn’t cause for panic, by far. But with attentions trained on the caustic imbroglio on numerous Middle East fronts, it remains imperative to understand that a less immediate — but no less crucial — additional arena is ramping up. Particularly as repercussions from the latter could most directly impact us all.