Russia to West: Don’t Defend Yourselves or We’ll Start an Arms Race

posted at 12:47 pm on May 28, 2011 by J.E. Dyer

When it comes to believing in mutual assured destruction, or MAD, as the basis for Russian security, Russia never left the Cold War.  Today’s leaders are as determined as their predecessors from the Soviet era to base Russian security on holding the US and Europe at risk with nuclear missiles.  They regard anything the US does with missile defense as a threat to that strategy.

Putin, Medvedev, and their diplomats couch their objections as follows:  American missile defense plans “threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.”  And the proper response – the honest, consistent response – is:  “Of course.  That’s what they’re supposed to do.”  In Reagan’s original vision, effective missile defenses would make it meaningless for anyone – Russia, the US, China, India, Pakistan – to have an arsenal of strategic nuclear missiles.  When George W. Bush withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2001, he explicitly delinked US security policy from the symmetrical, “nuke-versus-nuke” deterrence concept of the Cold War era.  The whole point of layered missile defense is to void that concept.

That doesn’t mean Russia must be fated to be insecure.  It means the US does not agree to be held hostage as the guarantee of Russia’s security.  Nor do we agree to consign our allies to that fate.  The Russians are doing everything in their power to induce us to revert to the old “balance of terror,” however, and in 2011, the Reagan vision for escaping it hangs by a thread.

Obama’s 2009 decision to cancel the ground-based interceptor (GBI) deployment in Poland was not enough to reassure Russia about American missile defense plans (some of us predicted that at the time).  Obama’s concept for deploying tactical assets instead is meeting with the same resistance from Moscow.  The original GBI plan, besides defending Europe, would have given the US a defense against ICBMs launched across Europe from Asia.  The new plan, involving only tactical interceptors, provides no defense for North America; it can only intercept medium-range theater missiles targeted at Europe.  But even that is more than Russia will accept.

The Russians have been perfectly explicit as to their concern.  Even supposing that the purpose of the missile defense plan is to defend Europe against missiles from Iran, Russia is unwilling to have defenses deployed that might conceivably prevent Russia from launching nuclear missiles at Europe.  That’s why the Russians proposed last month that they have a “red button” veto over the use of a joint NATO-Russian missile defense system.  It’s why they are threatening to withdraw from the New START agreement that took effect in February.  It’s why they are threatening a new “MAD arms race.” And it’s why they have conducted two launches of their new-generation Sineva ballistic missile (modified SS-N-23 SKIFF) from the Barents Sea in the last month.

There’s a tendency to dismiss the Russian military as hollow today, and that tendency is dangerous.  The Russian military is hollow – but nations with hollow militaries rely more, not less, on strategic nuclear arms for their concepts of national security.  It doesn’t matter to the performance of a nuclear warhead whether the army that fields it is feeding its soldiers dog food or not.  The force build-up Russia has undertaken since 2007 has been weighted toward the “strategic nuclear triad” of the Cold War, and principally toward two legs of it:  land-launched ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).  (The third leg is strategic bombers.)  While the US has allowed our strategic nuclear forces to stagnate, Russia has been updating hers.

Going back down the path of MAD because Russia wants it and Americans don’t bother to understand that it’s happening is a terrible idea.  Russia isn’t the only nuclear-armed non-ally out there.  China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are all nuclear armed; Iran is moving heaven and earth to become so; and unstable nations like Burma and Venezuela are hanging out with just the rogue elements that can put them on the list as well.  In 2011, we should be putting everything we can behind establishing missile defense, rather than MAD, as the global basis for security.

This doesn’t mean missile defense is perfectly seamless, of course.  One day it may be so, but it isn’t now.  What it can do, right now – today – is ensure that no first strike can possibly cripple the US and our allies so that we can’t mount a debilitating second strike.  That reality is as much a deterrent to the first use of nuclear weapons as the threat of annihilation under MAD.  And Russia could implement a missile defense for her own security – against China or Iran, as well as against NATO – quite as well as we could.  We have repeatedly offered our technology for that project, but the Russians also have missile defense programs of their own.

If we don’t think missile defenses will deter Iran, in particular, then clearly the threat of a massive counterstrike won’t deter Iran either; the two go together.  The argument that a missile defense won’t deter Iran is not an argument for MAD; it’s an argument that Iran is undeterrable under her current leadership.  Regime change is the remedy for that condition – ideally, the regime change the Iranians themselves are more than willing to undertake.  MAD is the last thing we should rely on.

Russia is trying to get the US (and by extension, Canada and NATO Europe) to accept reverting to MAD, largely because it’s more convenient for Russia to remain a great power and retain outsize leverage that way.  We cannot let that consideration drive our national security decisions.  It’s better for America – and ultimately better for Russia – to press forward with the concept of missile defense as the basis for security.  Unlike a proliferation of layered, interlocking, or chaotic MAD regimes across the globe, missile defense offers the possibility of defanging nuclear arsenals altogether.  Giving in to Russia on her missile defense demands would send us back in the other direction – this time with multiple nuclear-armed wolf packs snarling and snapping at our heels.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

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For the sakes of both countries “Frick” and “Frack” need to be replaced as quickly as possible.

rplat on May 28, 2011 at 12:51 PM

Good times.

BallisticBob on May 28, 2011 at 12:52 PM

…and Dominique Strauss-Kahn probably believes that women should never own guns. Much too dangerous.

RBMN on May 28, 2011 at 12:57 PM

Francis Fukuyama was unavailable for comment.

keep the change on May 28, 2011 at 12:57 PM

That picture says a lot. Europeans see 0bama as a joke.

iurockhead on May 28, 2011 at 12:58 PM

For the amount of stimulus money we earmarked for “community organizing” in 2009, we could have paid Russia cash money for half its nuclear arsenal.

HitNRun on May 28, 2011 at 12:59 PM

Russia – “Drop your shorts, America. Here it comes”

Barry – “Sounds good. Should I lube up as well?”

Russia – “No need”

Flyboy on May 28, 2011 at 1:02 PM

No telling what this slug bho has said and promised on this trip to the countries he visited? I would bet that whatever it is, the US is gonna get the shaft!

letget on May 28, 2011 at 1:09 PM

Managing America’s Decline

Ordinary1 on May 28, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Make no mistake. Russia’s goal is world domination.

Obama has the same goal.

We need some sanity in leadership.

davidk on May 28, 2011 at 1:10 PM

This is why the overture of throwing Poland under the bus was wrong.

Russia is going to want more and more.

Screw ’em. We should do what we know to be right. Deploy and advance this technology and capability AND keep our nuclear deterrent modern and reliable.

Let the Russians start another arms race.

Yeah, we’re in more problems financially nowadays than we were in the 80’s but how’d the last arms race turn out for the Soviets?

Screw ’em.

catmman on May 28, 2011 at 1:14 PM

The thread picture says it all.

Schadenfreude on May 28, 2011 at 1:18 PM

News accounts show the Poles as welcoming the Big O with hugs and kisses, except for Walesa who probably recognizes Zero for what he is. After cutting their defenses and leaving them vulnerable to the Rooskies, you’d think those who profess to remember Nazism and what happened to their country, the Poles would deny him entry to their country.

Kissmygrits on May 28, 2011 at 1:22 PM

Just once tell the big red bear that we about to elect a Momma grizzly so stop your growling it only makes her mad!

Don L on May 28, 2011 at 1:26 PM

They can’t. Russia is crumbling.

Harpoon on May 28, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Poland is a Christian Catholic nation -can’t have or protect friend who don’t support government paid abortion and have a God that competes with the almighty state for your allegience. Maybe it’s time for a Christian Spring?

Don L on May 28, 2011 at 1:29 PM

catmman on May 28, 2011 at 1:14 PM

You know I wondered why no one has brought this up. There is an article on one of the blogs about “o” asking help from the Poles in the “arab spring”. Why don’t the Poles tell him to jump in the lake, after refusing to help them?
Yea for Lek Walensa (not sure of the spelling – half heimers), glad he refused to meet with him.

Bambi on May 28, 2011 at 1:50 PM

Now worries. Barry will rely on his glib tongue.

GarandFan on May 28, 2011 at 1:52 PM

West to Russia: Go f**k yourself.

HawaiiLwyr on May 28, 2011 at 2:04 PM

Obama’s mama was in a Russian class when he was conceived, so there’s that.

faraway on May 28, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Now, why in the world would the Bear think it could win an arms race?

Or easier, win an intimidation exploit?

Speakup on May 28, 2011 at 2:16 PM

If they threaten an arms buildup, that certainly would make it good for our defense contractors. Which would sort of make that much more of a Good Thing.

Call their bluff. At the very least, it’ll be a morale boost for the US to not be a pushover.

sethstorm on May 28, 2011 at 2:24 PM

Russia to West: Don’t Defend Yourselves or We’ll Start an Arms Race

Uncle Sam to Russia: You talkin to me? Punk.

Zorro on May 28, 2011 at 3:35 PM

Russia needs to stop looking west for trouble and instead concern itself with the Chinese that would just love to take over the eastern half of Russia for all of its natural resources.

And do not forget there is a Russian “Presidential” election coming up soon. That election is going to be a “who has the biggest яйца and can rattle the sabre loudest” contest between Putin and Medvedev….

albill on May 28, 2011 at 3:46 PM

You know the saying “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he did not exists”

The The greatest trick the USSR ever pulled was to convince the world they collapsed…. All they did was massively expand UNDER GROUND and spread the cancer that is Socialism/Communism to all nations, now they are seeing their chance to not only recreate the USSR but bring in a whole lot more nations…

the_ancient on May 28, 2011 at 4:38 PM

albill on May 28, 2011 at 3:46 PM

You think Russia and China are enemies, lol….

Russia and China are like the USA and the UK….

They will never ever go to war with each other, not until they are the 2 last nations on the planet, only then could there be a CHANCE (a small one) of a war between Russia and China

the_ancient on May 28, 2011 at 4:40 PM

They can’t. Russia is crumbling.

Harpoon on May 28, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Hollow shell, but not crumbling. We are the nation that’s crumbling. And they’re not in hock to the ChiComs.

Uncle Sams Nephew on May 28, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Now, why in the world would the Bear think it could win an arms race?

Or easier, win an intimidation exploit?

Speakup on May 28, 2011 at 2:16 PM

Truth be known, they didn’t lose the last one, either. They just changed tactics.

Dr. ZhivBlago on May 28, 2011 at 7:13 PM

Russia is trying to get the US (and by extension, Canada and NATO Europe) to accept reverting to MAD, largely because it’s more convenient for Russia to remain a great power and retain outsize leverage that way.

It’s always been hard to for Americans to understand Russian foreign policy motives, although most of the USSR’s Cold War strategy is now part of the public record. More often than not, the US completely failed to understand what was going on inside the Kremlin.

When your country has been invaded twice by European countries (Germany) over the last 100 years resulting in massive destruction and death, the lessons are hard to forget. And as Russia’s performance in fighting Georgia demonstrated, their conventional armed forces are too incompetent to defend Russia in the event of a major war. You can tell Russia that history has forever changed and there never be another major land war, but you have to understand that the Russian’s may have trouble buying that argument.

bayam on May 28, 2011 at 7:36 PM

Russia to West: Don’t Defend Yourselves or We’ll Start an Arms Race

OBAMA to RUSSIA: No problem!! Us liberals are good at Not Defending Ourselves!!!

landlines on May 28, 2011 at 7:44 PM

F— the Russians, build the Missile Defense system and do it now. If they want to build more missiles, fine. We will be prepared to destroy them as fast as they send them and they will look real silly. Obama will agree because he does not think the US should defend its self either.

old war horse on May 28, 2011 at 11:15 PM

They are only pulling this crap now because they know on Jan 20, 2013 is when President Palin takes office and she wont take that crap.

Wolftech on May 28, 2011 at 11:57 PM

Russian Communism was never the threat that we thought it was. Russian Imperialism was, and is still, the real driver. Russia will adopt whatever economic system they need to in order to put a productive base under their imperial dreams. The experience of WWII looms very large in the Russian outlook on the world and they learned the lesson that productivity is power.
It’s no accident that the collapse of communism in Russia was driven from the American Section of the KGB, from whence came Putin, by the way. They were the first ones to see that Russian Communism was standing in the way of Russian Imperialism.
The other issue here is the inability of American analysts to resist the arrogant habit of projecting their own values and models of rationality, upon those whose behavior they propose to explain. Liberal foreign policy analysis is always driven by the idea that Russians are just modified Americans, and all they have to do is imagine themselves in a meeting of the Politboro, seeing what the Russians see, and imagining how an American would react. They refuse to believe that 1000 years of Russian history could possibly result in a profoundly different and fundamentally “Russian” definition of reality and humanity.
Given these two basic misconceptions, I don’t see how liberal foreign policy has any more hope of succeeding with Russia than it did in the 1940’s.

Lew on May 29, 2011 at 9:03 AM

They are only pulling this crap now because they know on Jan 20, 2013 is when President Palin takes office and she wont take that crap.

Wolftech on May 28, 2011 at 11:57 PM

Palin won’t have a dad-blamed clue how to actually handle Russia once she can see it from her (White) house.

If we’re lucky she’ll shut her noise hole and act on the advice of good military and intelligence advisers, who will proceed to do the best they can. Hopefully their competence plus Palin’s lack of active sabotaging will be enough; at this point it’s anybody’s guess.

Uncle Sams Nephew on May 29, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Let’s do some SDI.

Akzed on May 29, 2011 at 2:41 PM