Michael Hammerschlag: Rattling Rusting Sabers
Rattling Rusting Sabers
by Michael Hammerschlag
Moscow: Recent Cold Warrish Russian rhetorical rants about the Eastern European missile shield stem from tensions building for a long time, and Russia has a point. There is no doubt America has acted duplicitously, even treacherously, in surrounding Russia with NATO- against express promises; developing new classes of atomic weapons, withdrawing from the ABM treaty, abandoning non-proliferation regimes, and acting both as if Russia is a has-been paper tiger and yet a continued threat. But Russia- seeking to reassert her rightful power and influence, has been too aggressive: doubling energy prices overnight, threatening Europe with a gas OPEC, bullying foreign companies to sell their hard won stake in Russia, and intimidating Estonia. Buoyed by its recent wealth and stability, Russia demands respect, but hasn't mastered the crucial difference between engendering it from fear and creating it from consistency, admiration, and friendship. The fear causes flashbacks to the Soviet era, especially among the former satellites, who then desperately seek alliances with the West, even if unwise or destabilizing.
America's (or the neocons, since they increasingly should be divorced from the country) obsession with a missile shield goes back to Reagan, but it has always been a fantasy- these antimissile missiles have never worked. Even with fraudulent tests on missiles that broadcasted their position, they almost all failed. (Recent “successes” must be taken with a shaker of salt- one was a cruise missile, at jet speeds*.) Hitting an incoming ballistic missile with a missile isn't like hitting a bullet with a bullet- they both move 10 times faster. Having said that, the advent of rogue nations with a few nukes has changed the equation of anti-missile defense from preposterous to unlikely, but perhaps a tactical and moral necessity, since the impact of one weapon would be so horrific. However, smuggling a nuke into America or Russia is much much easier than launching an easily trackable missile that will lead to the eradication of your homeland. Unless, of course, your homeland is being attacked, and you have an obsession with suicide.
This is dawning on Russia too, as it wisely reconsiders giving nuclear technology and fuel to the radical Iranians by completing their "power" plant. Ahmadinejad excused his central role in the 1979 US Embassy takeover by claiming that he had wanted to seize the Soviet Embassy. Chechnya has to have enraged the Iranian Mullahs.. and Moscow is much closer than Washington. The truth is, the world is locked in a grim race which city will be the first to be immolated by a nuclear bomb: New York, Washington, Moscow, or Tel Aviv by Islamic terrorists; or Karachi or Delhi by their respective blood enemies. There was always something bizarre about Russia, which since 9-11 has suffered more than anyone from terrorism, helping the prime state sponsor of Islamic terrorism for 3 decades achieve nuclear weapons. Hopefully Russia has realized that its own security concerns outweigh a temporary financial gain or the old reflex thrill of tweaking the West.
That the evil nuclear genie has been kept bottled for 62 years is truly miraculous, especially considering how close it came to getting out in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Turns out the Soviets actually had 162 atomic bombs on Cuba at the time, but insanely didn't tell anyone (the first rule of deterrence is that the other side must, ah, know you have them); while Castro was urging a full scale nuclear attack on America if it bombed or invaded. A Soviet sub commander who was forced to surface by mock depth charges came a hair from vaporizing the US destroyer Joseph P Kennedy with a nuclear torpedo. I heard this stunning news straight from old war-horse McNamara (audio). The tit for tat daily escalating nuclear tests were indicative of how wide the precipice yawned- 1, 2, 3 a day on each side- bigger and bigger. The Soviets didn't "blink first", as Dean Rusk bragged, they just understood the agony of tens of millions dead, whereas America never could.
There is simply no excuse for Bush's plans to upgrade and develop more nuclear bombs (the US has restarted tritium manufacture) or Russian plans to build new missiles with multiple warheads- both countries have more than enough bombs and missiles to last them decades and destroy any imaginable enemy. Likewise Putin's careless comments about targeting ex-socialist allies Poland and Czechia were antediluvian (and maybe why foreign companies resist Russian buy-ins). There is a dangerous disconnect between the prestige value of atomic weapons and their actual purpose. Nukes aren't toys or poker chips- they are the ultimate terror weapon and the world will see their effects soon enough... and forever mourn for its lost innocence. Neither leader could now even imagine any scenario in which they'd ever use these weapons on the other; they have always been useless except as symptoms of how MAD we were, so why prepare to?
new Topol M Russian ICBM
I've seen the proud maps of the active Minuteman missile fields at Ellsworth Air Force Base, with the command bunkers noted; I've seen the awesome black Trident missile subs, which can each destroy countries, sailing out of Puget Sound; and the boomer sailors when they returned to New London, after months without sun or fresh air, with their milky translucent skin and sunken eyes that have seen past the edge of sanity. I've stopped in my camper at a strange circular metal fence at Spearfish SD, and awakened with the horrified realization that I was camping on a live ICBM silo. In St. Petersburg as the Soviet Union collapsed, I was struck with visceral shock at the fact that my own country had some 45 nuclear bombs targeted on me. I've talked to a Typhoon boomer commander in Murmansk. I’ve seen the endless drums of nuclear war crackers in the subbasement of the RI Capitol and the infinite corridor of bank-vault blast doors in the subbasement of MGU. I've marveled at the cheap FEMA speaker that was to announce the end of the world; and ducked and covered under the desk as a schoolboy, as if the flimsy wooden table would hold back the 5000 degree temperatures and 600mph blast wave. I never thought we'd live through it. Those weren't the best of times and we don't need to go back.
The planned missile shield is stupid, provocative, counterproductive, and probably useless. Russia has absolutely nothing to fear from it, since its strategic missiles don't go near Eastern Europe, but after all the other apparent betrayals, that doesn't matter. They, like so many Americans, are sick of the lies of the Bush Administration. US Missile Agency General Obering’s promise that the defense shield could be expanded to protect Russia was absurd- that’s what the Russia is afraid of- an expansion that would negate their offensive forces- in missile parlance there are no exclusively defensive weapons.
Iran is a threat, but these missiles evoke specters of Russia’s collapse that enrage virtually everyone here. Putin is serious about stopping these things, and has suspended the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which bizarrely America and NATO haven’t ratified (expecting Russia to abide by all conditions first), but was the cornerstone of European security. Although a large majority in both Poland and Czechia are against the anti-missile installations, the Bushmen are proceeding all ahead full, thinking they can steamroll Russia again, a big mistake, because a dollop of security from the extremists in Tehran won’t be worth much compared with reactivating the thousands of bombs and missiles of the only nation that can destroy America. This is a perilous time, where great stupidities on both sides can lead to a pointless, wasteful, and dangerous arms race; but the Democrats in Congress may cancel the whole program.
There is a nostalgia among many in the Russian military and administration for the era of Soviet nuclear sabers, when the world quaked in their boots at the actions of the superpowers and wondered if they would be fried alongside them. But Russia, and America, have many many better things to base their greatness on, than the ability to kill millions of people in a flash.
Michael Hammerschlag, currently in Moscow, has written on the nuclear standoff for decades. His commentaries + articles have appeared in Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser, Columbia Journalism Review, Media Channel, Capital Times; and Moscow News, Tribune, Guardian, Times, and We/Mui. His website is http://Hammernews.com
* They have been of missiles fired directly over relatively close ships, in boost phase, before they reached full speed, and interceptors fired almost simultaneously to be able to reach the attacking missile over the huge distances involved. Having homing beacons on the attacking missile is like a soldier going into battle with a boom box and a strobe light- it wouldn’t happen.
MGU= Moscow State University, a huge Stalin wedding cake building in southern Moscow.
WASH POST 5-2-7 “system.. has not proved itself in testing. Only one successful test of the interceptor has been conducted since 2002, and that was under controlled conditions that wouldn't be present in a real attack.”
NUCLEAR THREAT Articles
ROBERT MCNAMARA (Realplayer Audio) http://hammernews.com/mcnamara.ram Brown U symposium on Cuban Missile Crisis- Watson Institute 10/23/2002-
SPEAKING LOUDLY WITHOUT ANY STICK - Nightmare of North Korean nukes: the most dangerous country in the world has started to mass produce a nuclear arsenal; Administration response?- no negotiations, no problem; But Saddam needs crushing; History of NK terrorism- Liberal Slant 1/4/03
TREMBLING ON THE BRINK-- Pakistan + India have mobilized almost all their forces and are marching towards a war that neither can control; Both countries have 30-100 nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them; With such tiny numbers, paranoia and pressure for a first strike could be irresistible- a threat that will last a decade- Online Journal 1/16/02 Cover ALT HTML
VULNERABLE WINDOW of OPPORTUNITY (2 panel gif- pan right) Chance to buy + destroy Soviet missiles and bombs- Moscow Tribune ‘93
NEXT STAR of BETHLEHEM - meaning of Israeli nuclear arsenal Seattle Times '87
MAD FANTASY OF LIMITED NUCLEAR WAR-2 panel gif- scroll right (Providence Journal) ‘81 Dangerous lunacy and impossibility of limited nuclear warfighting strategies
A WARM + BRIGHT FUTURE (orig .-1/2 pending OCR) - Threat of nuclear war w visit to FEMA defense center, and detailed effects of 20 meg blast on NYC (long mag. art.)