Reflections on the New Russian Missiles
by Playthell Benjamin
Often virtually alone among American pundits, I have repeatedly warned about the danger of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. My abiding fear is that, given the vast superiority in conventional forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – an American led military alliance whose raison d’etre was the containment of the Soviet Union by military encirclement – the continued expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe will eventually lead to nuclear war. Hence I have argued against such menacing intrusions into the region, because given the critical role of computers in the launch function of nuclear weapons systems: Accidental nuclear war is more likely than ever.
This is due to two major factors: The US refusal to recognize Russia’s Sphere of Influence, and Article Five of the NATO Treaty which commits the US to engage Russia militarily should they have a military conflict with Latvia! Alas, very few Americans are even aware of this fact, let alone understand that it could precipitate a conflict that could destroy the world. In fact, most media commentators talk about the antagonism between Russia and NATO i.e. the USA, as if it were a wrestling match not a march toward Doomsday. The deployment of this new missile system forces us to confront the terrifying reality of nuclear holocaust.
The question being asked by most American foreign policy analyst is “why now?” The answer given by a professor at the Naval War College, who serves as a consultant to MSNBC, is that there are two basic reasons for President Putin’s decision to deploy the missiles just now: Putin’s “contempt” for President Obama, and based on the things Trump has said regarding improving relations with Russia Putin feels that Trump would never go to war due to a conflict between Russia and a former member state of the Soviet Union.
I think it is more the former than the latter; Putin would have considered such a move too risky earlier in the Obama presidency, especially when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. An anti-Russian hawk whose views were forged in the heated environment of the Cold War era, such a move on Putin’s part, although perfectly reasonable in view of NATO’s strategy of encircling Russia with military proxies, would have been a dangerous act of brinksmanship.
The deployment of this new missile system forces us to confront the terrifying reality of nuclear holocaust.
And a Clinton presidency would have plunged the world to the edge of disaster. Hence if there is any silver lining to be found in the dark clouds that surround the election of Donald Trump, it is that he does not share Hillary’s hostility and paranoia regarding Russian military power and Putin’s intentions. Although it has been used against him by Democrats and Republicans alike whose attitude toward Russia was forged during the Cold War, Trump’s position that we should be friends with Russia rather than enemies, and NATO is a dangerous anachronism whose cost is far greater than its benefit to the US is the more enlightened position. Even it is true – as his critics commonly claim – that Trump has no real knowledge of the situation and is just guessing: He is like the broken clock that’s right twice a day.
The most surprising thing regarding the deployment of these new Russian missiles is that it should come as a surprise to anyone who has been observing NATO’s strategy in Eastern Europe with any degree of objectivity.
I have written repeatedly this would happen, and Professor Stephen Cohen– arguably the most insightful American scholar on Russia – has issued many dire warnings that NATOs aggressive actions was pushing Putin into a corner and he would be forced to take a stand. Now it has happened and the world is a more dangerous place because of it. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was unambiguous about Russian intentions in deploying the Iskander Missiles:
“Russia is doing all that is necessary to protect itself against the backdrop of NATO’s expansion toward its borders. NATO is indeed an aggressive bloc, that is why Russia is doing everything that is necessary. Russia has all the sovereign rights to take the necessary measures across all the territory of the Russian Federation.”
Although Russian officials are reluctant to specify the exact model of missiles they deploy, Viktor Ozerov – the Senator who Chairs the Defense and Security Committee in the Upper House of their parliament – told the news channel Russia Today that the Russian decision to deploy these new missiles was a response to the danger to Russian security posed by the US cruise missiles recently deployed to Poland and Rumania – two former members of the disbanded Warsaw Pact, the Russian dominated counter-part to NATO. Senator Ozerov explained:
“One of the reasons why Russia opposed the deployment of the American ABM [anti-ballistic missile] system in Europe was the concern that this infrastructure may be quickly converted to deploy strike systems, in particular land-based cruise missiles. These concerns are being confirmed today. In response to that we will be forced to beef up our air and space defense system in that direction, [and to] deploy additional forces to defend our military facilities and command centers. This includes the deployment of S-400 and Iskander systems in Kaliningrad, and the formation of new units in the Western and Southern military districts”
Both of these missile systems are defensive in nature. The Iskander system is capable of firing cruise and ballistic missiles, and the S-400 is an anti-missile system designed to protect critical Russian sites such as cities and strategic missile silos, both of which are critical to the survival of the Russian nation. Hence in view of NATO’s steady encroachment into the Russian sphere their statement to the Associated Press that the Russian missile deployment “does not help to lower tensions or restore predictability to our relations” or “avoid incidents and the risk of misunderstandings” rings hollow.
Like a town crier in the night, Professor Cohen has been sounding the alarm in a thus far futile effort to get American policymakers to turn away from the road to war with Russia. Reading his cautionary writings in retrospect they seem like exhortations from Old Testament prophets warning the Princes and Powers of their time to reject the path of death and destruction and choose the path of live preserving righteousness.
Cohen argues that this build-up is unprecedented even during the last 40 years of the US/Russian Cold War and amounts to the opening of a “NATO Eastern Front.” This kind of military mobilization accompanied by bellicose rhetoric and saber rattling, looks like preparation for war to a country that has been invaded from the west twice and lost millions of its citizens in their struggle to resist.
Due to America’s self-righteous arrogance fueled by the dangerous mythology of “American Exceptionalism” – which is shared by both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, but ironically not Donald Trump – is pushing us straight on course for a military conflict with Russia. Professor Cohen candidly points out the suicidal folly of this policy.
“What NATO is mobilizing there is a lot more than a couple of divisions here and a couple of divisions there, some armor here and some there. We need to understand that tens of thousands of western troops will be parked now permanently, they may say that they are rotating, but they are there permanently on Russia’s borders. Along with nuclear-ready missiles, along with a lot of tanks and, above all, in Russia’s eyes, the missile defense installation. The US builds up forces all around Russia and then blames Moscow for Holding on to Nukes this is so serious, so fraught with the possibility of war.”
Alas, According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, who are the world’s foremost authorities on the causes and consequences of nuclear war: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” To note the dire state of the human predicament, as I write the scientist have set the Doomsday Clock at three minutes before midnight! Let us hope…and pray if you are the prayerful type, that our leaders can be persuaded to change their nihilistic course before the hand strikes midnight.
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.