Happy days are here again: Russia is threatening war
Last Thursday, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, Chief of Russia’s General Staff, spoke with soldierly directness about NATO anti-missile defences in Eastern Europe.
‘A decision to use destructive force preemptively will be taken if the situation worsens,’ he announced, bringing back fond memories of the Cuban crisis. You may think the general spoke out of turn, but he didn’t. In fact, he merely repeated the threat issued by President Medvedev last year.
NATO replied that under no circumstances would it wish to undermine the Soviet nuclear deterrent. We wouldn’t even think of defending ourselves against Russia, said American officials, and shame on you for having such beastly suspicions. Our defence system is merely designed to protect the West against a highly plausible missile attack from rogue states, Iran specifically. To that end NATO plans to deploy sea-based Aegis radars and interceptors, along with a more powerful radar based in Turkey. Installed next will be radar and interceptor facilities in Romania and Poland.
It’s that last proposed site that has upset the Russians. Put those blasted things anywhere you want, but leave Poland alone, they screamed. Poland is ours, they didn’t scream, but strongly implied. You install a radar in Poland, and we’ll launch a missile attack. Meanwhile, just in case, the Russians installed their own powerful radar in Kaliningrad, née Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia.
This whole brouhaha raises interesting questions: Why do the Russians need a radar installation next door to Poland? Why do they object to NATO having similar facilities? Do they have the capability to act on their threat?
A truism first: radars are used for defence. They warn of an incoming threat in good time for activating countermeasures. As radar systems are costly, they’re placed mostly on strategically significant sites, those covering the likeliest directions of enemy action.
A quick glance at the map will show that the Kaliningrad radar can’t protect Russia from Iranian missiles, unless those wily ayatollahs choose to bend it like Beckham. No, that radar covers Russia only against an attack from the west, which is to say from NATO.
Now, both you and Putin know that NATO will never launch a preemptive strike against Russia. If they didn’t do it during the Berlin blockade, the massacre of Hungary, the Cuban crisis, or any of the Middle East and Far East wars in which the Soviets either fought on the side of the West’s enemies or at least armed them, they aren’t going to do so now. In fact, Western Europe is disarming faster than you can say ‘austerity’, and the US is shifting its focus away from Europe and towards the east.
Call me an alarmist, but the conclusion seems straightforward: the Kaliningrad installation is there to protect Russia from NATO’s second strike, not first. In the strategic plans hatched by Gen. Makarov’s General Staff, it’s Russia that’s supposed to deliver the first blow, and they’re deploying systems designed to neuter NATO’s retaliation. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not privy to Russia’s plans; this is pure speculation based on logic. I’d be open to other explanations, but I can’t think of any on my feeble own.
This logical induction would also explain the vehemence of the Russians’ stance. If their strategic plans indeed include a possible first strike against NATO, it stands to reason that NATO radars and interceptors in Eastern Europe are a direct threat. And the Russians know how to handle such situations: worldwide propaganda against US warmongering backed up by threats. They tried this dual stratagem when Reagan’s administration was deploying intermediate-range missiles in Europe, and that time it didn’t work. It just may work now.
The last question is, does Russia have the military wherewithal to make good her threats? Here I hasten to add another disclaimer: I don’t claim any specialised knowledge of Russia’s military capability. What encourages me to write on such matters is that those who do claim such expertise have for decades been consistently and spectacularly wrong in their analysis.
This applies even to retrospective analysis – some ‘military historians’ still peddle the lie that the Nazis routed the Soviet army in the summer of 1941 because they had a huge superiority in tanks, planes and other hardware. In fact, the Soviets enjoyed an overwhelming seven-fold superiority in tanks, a three-fold superiority in planes, a huge superiority in artillery pieces and, certainly, personnel. And their T-34 and KV tanks at the start of the war remained unmatched until its end. The Nazis won their initial victories because of their much better military leadership and morale – all the more impressive, considering they were badly outgunned.
Western analysts invariably either underestimated or, as with Kennedy’s phoney ‘missile gap’, overestimated Soviet strength. One can detect that at present they’re erring on the former side. Newspapers and military journals are full of stories about Russia’s failed missile tests, and her defeat in Afghanistan is still held up as proof of her weakness (presumably America’s performance in the same theatre is a sign of her strength).
In fact, the Russians are doing rather well in the military department. Their 10,500 km Topol-M missile systems, of which they already have 36, will in a couple of years become the mainstay of their strategic forces. The Topols will be land-based, sea-based (the submarine version is called Bulava, ‘mace’) or mobile, devilishly hard to detect. Though they’re supposedly reducing the number of their ICBMs to 2,012 (parity with the US), the Russians have a huge superiority in non-strategic nuclear weapons – some 8,000 to 15,000, as compared to America’s 300.
For as long as the price of oil remains sky-high, which probably means forever, the Russian KGB-run regime will be awash with cash. And numerous statements by Putin and other officials, backed up with deeds, show that Russia will spend much of her hydrocarbon revenues on building up her military muscle even further.
A criminal regime armed to the teeth and making threats ought to be taken seriously. It’s a dangerous mistake to think that Russian politicians are like Barack or Dave, chaps who’ll think one thing, say another and do a third just to be elected. Putin and his stooges don’t have to be elected, and they occasionally mean what they say.