“Then my imagination just left me.”
February 28, 2017 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Trump, Putin and the new Cold War

Strobe Talbott, the former Clinton adviser, said, “There is a very real danger not only that we are going to lose a second Cold War—or have a redo and lose—but that the loss will be largely because of a perverse pal-ship, the almost unfathomable respect that Trump has for Putin.” Talbott believes that Trump, by showing so little regard for the institutions established by the political West in the past seventy years, is putting the world in danger. Asked what the consequences of “losing” such a conflict would be, Talbott said, “The not quite apocalyptic answer is that it is going to take years and years and years to get back to where we—we the United States and we the champions of the liberal world order—were as recently as five years ago.” An even graver scenario, Talbott said, would be an “unravelling,” in which we revert to “a dog-eat-dog world with constant instability and conflict even if it doesn’t go nuclear. But, with the proliferation of nuclear powers, it is easy to see it going that way, too.”

Previously: Killer, kleptocrat, genius, spy: the many myths of Vladimir Putin (FPP)

Also: Russia mobilises an elite band of cyber warriors
posted by triggerfinger (82 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
The greatest victory, according to Sun Tzu is to manipulate your enemy so that he defeats himself without your army needing to raise a hand. By that metric, the Russian Federation has won a resounding victory.

But by the metric of the post-World War 2 consensus, and also the very concept of Westphalian sovereignty, the last illusions of sovereign sanctity have been dispelled. And in that, I see the basis of World War Three. At some point somebody's going to get exhausted with all domestic politics being a game of international meddling, and then the missiles will fly.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 4:28 PM on February 28 [9 favorites]




This is a fabulous article - highly recommended. Two of the authors will be on Fresh AIr tomorrow (with Terry Gross).
posted by bluesky43 at 4:49 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Why am I supposed to support WW3 again? To save the Ukraine? No thanks. Russia has nukes, and the US (with help) couldn't even do a proper job in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. This saber rattling is reckless enough coming from the usual Republican warmongers, but it takes on Strangelove proportions when coming from progressive media/pundits/policy wonks. Did I mention Russia has nukes? OK, good.
posted by Beholder at 5:02 PM on February 28 [13 favorites]


Just a reminder that Ukraine doesn't have nukes because the US forced Ukrainians to give them up and turn them over to Russia. Sorry, but you've got a whole boatload of responsibility for that situation.
posted by sardonyx at 5:40 PM on February 28 [16 favorites]


It seems a little crass for their artwork to portray the Kremlin as the alien warship from Independence Day -- filled, as it was, with nonhuman lifeforms intent on extinguishing human life -- in the process of blowing up the White House. Maybe that's just me.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:45 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Just a reminder that Ukraine doesn't have nukes because the US forced Ukrainians to give them up and turn them over to Russia. Sorry, but you've got a whole boatload of responsibility for that situation.

You're in favor of more countries having nuclear weapons?
posted by indubitable at 6:03 PM on February 28 [17 favorites]


A note regarding 'whataboutism' as referenced in the article. It's an effective tool for deflecting and redirecting criticism but an extremely poor way of defending someone because as anyone who gives it a moment's thought will realize, a bad action is bad regardless of who points it out. Whataboutism was a tactic frequently employed by the Soviet regime ("you're still lynching negroes", etc.), but can pop up anywhere. If you find yourself engaging in whataboutism, and I concede it can happen even to those with the best intentions, maybe knock it off. It is, to resort to the vernacular, a dick move.
posted by um at 6:08 PM on February 28 [15 favorites]


I was in favour of not throwing the Ukrainian lamb to the Russian wolves.
posted by sardonyx at 6:18 PM on February 28 [12 favorites]


If Ukraine had kept the weapons it might have kept Crimea but there's no guarantee the current level of fucked-uppedness wouldn't have been achieved in some other manner in some other country. The problem is not the weapons, it's that Putin feels the level of provocation Russia has endured means he no longer has to respect any boundaries at all.
posted by um at 6:27 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


under W. BUSH: "War is bad!"
under OBAMA:
under TRUMP: "Yemen war is suddenly bad now, but Deep State's war is good!"

Forget Ukraine, the American warmongers are pissed about getting pretty much blown out in the Syrian proxy war.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:37 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


If Ukraine had kept the weapons it might have kept Crimea but there's no guarantee the current level of fucked-uppedness wouldn't have been achieved in some other manner in some other country.

Yes, but Ukraine - which trusted us to protect them - would have kept Crimea.

And, probably, the rest of its territory.

I'm stunned (yet again) by the number of people on this site who will blithely sign up for letting our enemies win just so that the United States can lose.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:43 PM on February 28 [26 favorites]


Wow, I did not expect to be having this conversation. So, what other marginal, historically corrupt regimes should be just straight up given nuclear weapons? Saudi Arabia? Nigeria? Mexico? Should we scrap the Iran deal so that they can develop them indigenously? Knowing the record of near-misses in nuclear weapons use just between the two major powers of the Cold War, are you seriously in favor of multiplying those chances by handing them out to everyone whom you decide represents "US values" at the moment?
posted by indubitable at 6:49 PM on February 28 [6 favorites]


Concern about the global and extraordinary force of evil represented by Putin's Russia is not "reckless saber rattling." There comes a point where you can no longer Chamberlain away your problems.

So, what other marginal, historically corrupt regimes should be just straight up given nuclear weapons?

That there is definitely the deadest straw man I ever done seen.
posted by Behemoth at 6:53 PM on February 28 [29 favorites]


The New Yorker’s Big Cover Story Reveals Five Uncomfortable Truths About U.S. and Russia

Gosh, that article was not that strong. Greenwald is really scraping the barrel these days isn't he? Hilarious to see him accuse US elites of elipsis when his piece is rife with it.

The idea that Obama was soft on Russia is nonsense. Maybe according to the Republican party, but in reality he brought in the harshest sanctions Russia has seen since the soviet union dissolved.
posted by smoke at 6:53 PM on February 28 [30 favorites]


Yes, but Ukraine - which trusted us to protect them - would have kept Crimea.

Not necessarily. Nuclear weapons are a deterrent, but not a universal deterrent. They didn't deter Al-Qaeda, for example.
posted by um at 7:04 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


There comes a point where you can no longer Chamberlain away your problems.

Chamberlain did not live in an era when a single volley of missiles between two nations could kill millions in a single day.

I don't think that "rescue Crimea" or "start a nuclear war" are the only options available, but I will declare as an axiom that any action with a reasonable chance of causing a nuclear exchange is a hard no, regardless of other consequences. You don't have to agree, but if not we have no common ground for discussion.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:15 PM on February 28 [7 favorites]


"If you go to Great Britain, for example, and tell them the Queen is bad, nothing will happen, there will be no revolution, because the necessary conditions are absent—there is no existing background for this operation."

Thank you, Fox News, for 20 years of smearing HRC. Well done, assholes.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 7:18 PM on February 28 [12 favorites]


I'm no military genius, but I don't see how Al-Qaeda would feel threatened by a weapon that essentially mandates population concentration to maximize effectiveness. Even if you assume that America is an evil empire bent on mass destruction, which population would the US threaten to pressure Al-Qaeda? OBL hated Saudi Arabia and was happy to accept Taliban protection as they devastated the country he'd previously fought the Soviets in. He even gave them money for the cause. And evil or not, the US wasn't going to drop a nuke on a terrorist training camp with population of a couple hundred at most.
posted by xyzzy at 7:21 PM on February 28 [6 favorites]


I don't think that "rescue Crimea" or "start a nuclear war" are the only options available, but I will declare as an axiom that any action with a reasonable chance of causing a nuclear exchange is a hard no, regardless of other consequences.

This depends on what 'reasonable' means, because too much reluctance to push back just makes things worse. None of this is new. These are the name problems with nuclearized foreign policy we've had since nukes. They just haven't seemed particularly urgent in a while. They didn't actually become any less thorny while we weren't paying attention.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:41 PM on February 28 [5 favorites]


extraordinary force of evil represented by Putin's Russia

What's so extraordinarily evil about Putin's Russia? I think and extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. I see nothing singularly evil in Russia that I don't see elsewhere. Take a gander at the list of atrocities perpetrated by the other permanent members of the U.N. security council.

is not "reckless saber rattling

It most certainly is. It is extremely irresponsible to threaten the entire human species (not to mention most other land based lifeforms) with extinction because Russia decided to check NATO's advance deep into the former Soviet Union's security sphere. Given Russia's history this is a most understandable and predictable response.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:42 PM on February 28 [9 favorites]


Take a gander at the list of atrocities perpetrated by the other permanent members of the U.N. security council.

This is whataboutism.
posted by um at 7:46 PM on February 28 [32 favorites]


A note regarding 'whataboutism'

Except that it is bullshit because as I noted above, some people are claiming that Putin's Russia is singularly evil. Well that brings up the obvious question: as opposed to whom? This then leads to predictable comparisons.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:51 PM on February 28 [10 favorites]


The New Yorker’s Big Cover Story Reveals Five Uncomfortable Truths About U.S. and Russia

I lol'd.
posted by spitbull at 7:53 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


I am less worried about a new Cold War than I am about global warming. We may not need a war if the Earth becomes uninhabitable for humans.
posted by Splunge at 8:01 PM on February 28 [11 favorites]


Not if, actually. Just when. Faster now, under Trump.
posted by Splunge at 8:02 PM on February 28 [5 favorites]


I, for one, am glad we're having these exact same arguments again, because the 80s were so long ago and I'm old, and forgot how tiring and stupid it all was.
posted by klanawa at 8:08 PM on February 28 [14 favorites]


Take a gander at the list of atrocities perpetrated by the other permanent members of the U.N. security council.

This is whataboutism.


On my planet, we call it self-serving hypocrisy leading to motivated reasoning about the Other's criticism. But my head is still reeling from trying to read A Thousand Plateaus, so who knows.
posted by polymodus at 8:23 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Take a gander at the list of atrocities perpetrated by the other permanent members of the U.N. security council.

Gaze in amazement at their oppression of far-flung colonies, their desperate attempts to hold on to power as empires crumble, their bloody revolutions, their violent annexation of neighboring territories. Feast your eyes on their individually unique and qualitatively different histories and present tendencies. Boggle your mind with the difficulty of trying to compare the entire history of the British Empire to the entire history of China. Pay no attention to the most recent thirty years.
posted by sfenders at 8:24 PM on February 28 [15 favorites]


deep into the former Soviet Union's security sphere.

Um, so what? Why does Russia have any presumptive right to assert the geopolitical footprint of the USSR?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:27 PM on February 28 [22 favorites]


Except that it is bullshit because as I noted above, some people are claiming that Putin's Russia is singularly evil. Well that brings up the obvious question: as opposed to whom?

Just regular old evil. Will that do?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:29 PM on February 28 [7 favorites]


Jesus Christ! U.S. drone strikes don't make polonium assassinations any better, they just make the world worse. This is only hypocrisy if someone's not complaining about one of those, which is the exact opposite of Metafilter's problem.
posted by traveler_ at 8:33 PM on February 28 [11 favorites]


This is only hypocrisy if someone's not complaining about one of those

That's obviously incorrect. If someone doesn't complain about one of those, then they could be being generous, or several other relational/rhizomatic possibilities, not necessarily hypocritical.

So what's really symptomatic is, like the article documents, is how politicians in certain positions invent these neologisms such as "Whataboutism" without taking a step back and really looking at what these terms are doing in relation to everything going on. Look at the subtext in the article, the way that it juxtaposes the rhetoric "US officials" versus "Obama's national security adviser":

The U.S. officials who administer the system that Putin sees as such an existential danger to his own reject his rhetoric as “whataboutism,” a strategy of false moral equivalences. Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser under President Obama, is among those who reject Putin’s logic, but he said, “Putin is not entirely wrong,” adding that, in the past, “we engaged in regime change around the world. There is just enough rope for him to hang us.”*

The whole point is that this illustrates the conflict on several levels, (geo)politically, conceptually, relationally, etc. And someone declaring that something is Whataboutism is exactly how to misread that paragraph. Rhetorically, what's called the crypt word is precisely/analytically "hypocrisy" in this case, but for [reasons] the former group (those officials) doesn't want to use it.
posted by polymodus at 8:56 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


By Inauguration Day, January 20th, the evidence of a wide-scale Russian operation had prompted the formation of a joint task force, including the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the N.S.A., and the financial-crimes unit of the Treasury Department. Three Senate committees, including the Intelligence Committee, have launched inquiries; some Democrats worry that the Trump Administration will try to stifle these investigations.
What, me worry?

House GOP defeats resolution requesting Trump-Russia documents (Politico, Feb. 28, 2017)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) called the resolution “unnecessary, premature” and driven by politics. Instead, he said Republican members of the committee are drafting a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting his voluntary cooperation in any investigation related to Russia and Trump’s business conflicts — with Democrats encouraged to sign on.
Yeah, way too early, after the intelligence committee said that Russian hacks were used to sway the election in favor of Donald, and Trump’s first national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, took a forty-thousand-dollar fee from the Russian propaganda station RT to appear at one of its dinners, where he sat next to Putin... then Flynn was forced to resign when news broke that he had lied to Vice-President Mike Pence about these exchanges with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S..

Too soon. Let's see what Donald actually does, right?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 PM on February 28 [20 favorites]


I'm stunned (yet again) by the number of people on this site who will blithely sign up for letting our enemies win just so that the United States can lose.

It surprises me that people truly believe this is the motivation for expressed concerns about, for lack of a better term, saber-rattling. I'm deeply concerned about the actions of Russia in the recent past, but I'm also concerned about the effects of bullish foreign policy. I worry that the rush to be sure we win means a bigger fight overall. Wanting to avoid an unnecessary war isn't wanting to see America lose.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:26 PM on February 28 [12 favorites]


because Russia decided to check NATO's advance deep into the former Soviet Union's security sphere. Given Russia's history this is a most understandable and predictable response.

Are you *kidding* me? Tell this to the Dutch citizens who died in MH17. The annexation of the Crimea is a crime, and Russian aggressiveness threatens all of Europe. Understandable response, my Aunt Fanny.
posted by frumiousb at 9:42 PM on February 28 [33 favorites]


A term for "whataboutism" from classical rhetoric might be "tu quoque".

Just regular old evil. Will that do?

If I understand AElfwine Evenstar's point properly, no, regular old evil doesn't serve as adequate justification for nuclear proliferation or nuclear brinksmanship.

It's heavily disputed whether even the unilateral limited use of primitive low-yield nuclear weapons against the Empire of Japan by the U.S. was justified, and Putin isn't engaging in mass forced labor, Rape of Nanking type massacres, or testing chemical and biological weapons on conquered civilian populations.

Revanchism on Russia's part demands an extreme response, maybe even an international-norms-violating response if a solid case can be made that the positives would outweigh the negatives, but not the "Welp, let's throw the dice on the existence of everyone everywhere" response.

The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, identically but separately issued by the U.S., U.K., and Russia in 1994 which promised Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan that they wouldn't be subject to the use of force by those countries if they turned over the Soviet nuclear weapons they'd inherited to Russia and joined the NPT, was the proper step to take in response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union with respect to avoiding nuclear proliferation.

There are other things you can fault the U.S. and the U.K. for like not doing enough to welcome and integrate Russia into the international order, but persuading Ukraine to give up nukes in 1994 was the optimal and responsible move.
posted by XMLicious at 10:41 PM on February 28 [23 favorites]


sfenders: Really? You can't think of anything bad the US and UK got up to in the past thirty years? Begins with an I, ends with "raq" maybe? Killed maybe half a million people depending on how you count it? Still technically going on? FFS, no one is talking about the Mau Mau or the Boer War here. I'm talking about shit like the author of the Downing Street Memo, a man named Matthew Rycroft, having the stones to get up and condemn Russia for committing war crimes. I mean, maybe he's in the best position to know a war criminal, having helped commit war crimes himself.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:41 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I don't think that "rescue Crimea" or "start a nuclear war" are the only options available, but I will declare as an axiom that any action with a reasonable chance of causing a nuclear exchange is a hard no, regardless of other consequences

I mean, not exactly like that, but kind of, sort of, if you change it to "protect Ukraine" or "increase the chances of nuclear war"?

Because the '94 Budapest Memorandum was a promise that Ukraine would remain independent and keep it's territorial integrity if it gave up it's nuclear weapons. If a security agreement with the US isn't of sound value, then what's to keep other countries from doubting their current security agreements with the US and procuring their own nuclear weapons for defense?
posted by FJT at 10:47 PM on February 28 [13 favorites]


Russian aggressiveness threatens all of Europe

Do you know what threatens the entire human species? A nuclear weapon induced extinction level event. Global climate change will look like a weekend at the beach.

Still relevant
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:03 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Revanchism on Russia's part demands an extreme response

Yes, but under what authority? How can anyone take seriously the idea that "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world," holds for itself the right to police the conduct of other nations. We saw how that worked out in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Libya. Now some people have the bright idea that we should try it out with a nuclear armed state...but not any old nuclear armed state...Russia. This is madness.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:37 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


So wait, it's understandable that Russia be allowed to maintain hegemony over Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet states not to mention prop up the Assad regime?

Putin depends on the idea that things won't escalate to nuclear exchanges but that he'll be allowed to exert conventional force as necessary to regain Soviet hegemony.

Ultimately Russia is a regional power with delusions of grandeur that is using divisions in NATO to try to bully Ukraine and the Baltic states.

Or should Europe just surrender autonomy to Russia because they have nukes? So does England and France, Germany could probably get them in a short period of time.

Is it really a good idea to encourage every nation state to achieve nuclear weapons in order to becone somewhat safe from foreign invasion?
posted by vuron at 12:01 AM on March 1 [7 favorites]


Canny, intelligent, calculating Putin is playing a great game of chess and stupid reality show Trump is playing checkers, and not even playing *that* well. And Trump is a moronic baby, stamping his feet when he doesn't get his way.

Sweet.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:03 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


> Revanchism on Russia's part demands an extreme response

Yes, but under what authority?

I'm just saying that there has to be some countervailing mechanism in the international order that works against nations breaking off and annexing parts of neighboring countries in a hostile fashion, otherwise it's a genuine slippery slope and they'll just continue doing it and other nations will start doing it too. And then we'll be in the same situation vis-a-vis risk of nuclear war when two nuclear-armed states willing to do that kind of thing in the 21st century encroach on each other.

I didn't say it had to be the U.S. responding; and if you can think of an effective deterrent that doesn't qualify as an "extreme" response even in diplomatic terms, by all means let us ("us" being the international community) do whatever that mild or middling-intensity response is that will solve the problem.
posted by XMLicious at 12:13 AM on March 1 [12 favorites]


otherwise it's a genuine slippery slope and they'll just continue doing it and other nations will start doing it too.

Indeed. And I hate to do it because it's so cliched, but if you look exactly how Germany started its invasions of neighboring countries, the justifications about historical borders and protecting ethnic Germans are exactly the same as we hear from Russia today.

Sanctions against Russia were making a difference - without the crushing civilian cost that they had in Iraq, for example. The next best thing would be getting everyone, but especially Europe, off Russian gas and coal and onto renewables. A double win, as it were.
posted by smoke at 12:18 AM on March 1 [31 favorites]


Maybe "evil" isn't such a useful term when describing other nations' head's of state. It displaces the argument from politics to morals, and confuses people who rightly see works of evil done everywhere by everyone.

Putin has the political goals of ending Western democracy as we know it, weakening the US and splitting up the EU. These are goals I personally disagree with. To reach this aim, Russia engages in all sorts of covert and less covert manipulation and propaganda. It all works just fine, specially on the extreme ends of politics.

To me, one sad effect of this is that as the Russian manipulation becomes more and more obvious, the left loses authority. (So does the right, but I don't care about those guys). It strengthens the power of the establishment, but not enough to safeguard democracy.

Supporting Assad and annexing countries that were formerly part of the Sovjet Union are old-school expansionist policies which are very worrying when you are a citizen in any of the countries in the Russian "sphere of interest" or neighboring countries. Since we are also humans who deserve to live in peace and democracy, it seems a little arrogant to dismiss this threat "because the US did it too". I am perfectly capable of both deploring the fate of the people of Iraq (and Syria and Yemen and Afghanistan and Somalia and Sudan and Mali and…) and being very worried for my own personal future and that of my children. Thank you.
posted by mumimor at 1:27 AM on March 1 [31 favorites]


Putin has the political goals of ending Western democracy as we know it?
posted by Auden at 2:57 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


Seeing Russia actively work to destabilize the US and influence elections, work to support Brexit, and currently at work in the French elections, and seeing many of the same Twitter bot accounts that were stridently pro Trump anti Clinton now doing their best to destabilize Merkel, I'm kind of at a loss for how to respond to people defending Putin through to quoque, or the whataboutism as people are calling it here. America has a ton of problems, and a long history of shitty actions. It isn't, yet at least, illegal to be gay in America. It isn't, yet, despite calls of lock her up (some of the loudest coming from Flynn, who was pretty enamored with Putin's Russia), grounds for imprisonment (on anything that will stick) to run against the president of the US. And at least for now, punk bands aren't imprisoned for offending the church.

Stronger together was a good rallying cry, but from everything coming out of the last couple years, it seems Russia is pushing for weaker apart, because weaker apart makes it easier for Russia to get what it wants. As tainted and diluted as the west has become, I'll take it over Putin's ideal world any day.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:09 AM on March 1 [44 favorites]


Regardless of his ambitions, Putin is certainly happy to make alliances with and provide various forms of support for far-right parties around the world. I oppose him for the *exact same reasons* I oppose Thatcherite foreign policy and the Kirkpatrick Doctrine.

What the U.S. did in Chile, in Venezuela, in Argentina, in Australia, in Nicaragua, in Guatemala, in Iraq, in other places was terrible. What the Soviets did in Hungary, in so much of Eastern Europe, in the DDR, in Afghanistan, in so many other places was terrible. What Mark Thatcher tried to do in What Putin helped do in Chechnya, is doing in Crimea, and doing behind the scenes in a lot of European countries are also terrible. My mind has room for all of this in it, and so do the minds of others.

Now that we're all living in the present again, anyone have ideas for how to effectively resist this sort of thing? And how does Putin encouraging a far-right government in the U.S., one that openly fantasizes about yet another invasion of Iraq, help the things many of us dislike?
posted by kewb at 3:54 AM on March 1 [10 favorites]


Given Russia's history this is a most understandable and predictable response.

This line. It does not mean what you think it means.

Also, given the other thread on disengagement, I feel comfortable saying that some of the commentators here are fine with Russia winning provided that that means the US-led world order is destabilized.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:52 AM on March 1 [5 favorites]


I see nothing singularly evil in Russia that I don't see elsewhere. Take a gander at the list of atrocities perpetrated by the other permanent members of the U.N. security council.

How many other permanent members of the UN security council have made homosexuality illegal?
posted by Dysk at 5:04 AM on March 1 [9 favorites]


Also, given the other thread on disengagement, I feel comfortable saying that some of the commentators here are fine with Russia winning provided that that means the US-led world order is destabilized.

I don't think that's what people are saying at all. I think most people would be very comfortable with a US-led world order if our rhetoric matched our actions.

US politicians of every stripe present our country as a force for moral good but history shows that political considerations almost always outweigh moral values when it comes to policy on the ground. These decisions may have sound reasoning behind them but they should be defended on that basis, not hiding behind moral justifications when it is convenient. It is this fact, more than any action or policy undertaken by a foreign adversary, that does the most harm to the USAs leadership on the international stage.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 6:46 AM on March 1 [4 favorites]


“A country that is beset by turbulence closes up on itself..."

Based on Trump's speech in the Joint Session last night, it appears Russia now uses the playbook that the United States used to break down the Soviet Union. Far from a forward-looking vision toward the future, last night was a litany of regressive policies. Everything from coal, to oil, to military spending.

The last point brings back spectres of the Cold War. Where the United States effectively bankrupted the Soviet Union in an arms race unsustainable for the latter. Without an active market economy, Russia had little capability of reusing military technologies in the civil sector. Technology transfer between the United States military and civil society created a virtuous circle between defence spending and domestic (and international) market growth.

Key to the United States' success were the combined myths of a city on the hill and the American Dream. Not only did those visions galvanise the domestic population, but also it brought the world's leading academics, creatives, entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, and strategists to America. Open American borders meant a global talent pool to draw from. As people came, it not only created a collection of brilliant motivated people committed to both military and social progress, it also provided tie-backs to countries and communities around the world. Arguably the true foundation of Pax Americana.

The Soviet Union had the opposite. A reasonably strong domestic population, and a collection of satellite states on which the Russian will had been imposed. The race was from East Germany to West Germany, and not the other way around. While Russia could match American innovation and spending in some sectors and in some parts of the world, it ultimately could not compete in all of them. Over time, America's gains compounded and Russia lost the ability to fund and control the Soviet Union. It collapsed in on itself. When it did, there were far more Soviet minds in America than there were American minds in Russia.

Fast forward to the present day, and America's now-regressive (and potentially abusive) border policies turn away not only visitors but also potential residents. The chilling effect of the America First policy and rising white nationalism. The brightest, smartest, and wealthiest people I know are actively avoiding America. Skipping weddings. Cancelling business meetings. Changing academic courses.

Without the grand vision of America as leader of the world, and domestic policies to match, the country becomes hostile and exclusionary. In doing that, it turns away from the rest of the world and destroys the inbound magnet essential to American success in the first version of the Cold War. Without an open border policy, America doesn't get the world's minds, the world's motivated entrepreneurs, and it doesn't create the favourable ties that come when those people take up residence in the United States.

Further, very similarly to the way America prodded Russia in military overspending, Trump announced huge increases to America's already substantial military budget. America leads the world in military spending by far. While American power has been challenged, it has not yet been dominated. No country has provoked an open military conflict with the United States since World War II. While violent and aggressive, ISIS is not a country. It is a band of paramilitary forces at best.

Further, the solution to ISIS has long been known to be economic and not military. It operates like a gang. People join gangs for lack of better options – when they are locked out of any other opportunities. Yet, Trump has reiterated military solutions to the terrorism problem. Military solutions that will be funded at the expense of American investments in the environment, foreign aid, and international relations. Thus not only will America increase its already-overwhelming military budgets, it will be doing so at the expense of the basic infrastructure that underpins Pax Americana and its superpower status.

Trump's military spending will be approved, for military spending is generally looked upon favourably in the United States. While that spending creates economic activity, that activity is not self-sustaining. It creates assets designed to be destroyed, at best, and assets with greater long-term liabilities attached at worst. As the rest of the world moves to cyber-warfare, it sounds like Trump is going to double down on tanks, missiles, and planes.

As the immigration pump shuts off, not only does America not get the people, the ideas, and the energy, it also loses new consumers. Closing the borders effectively acts as demand-destruction at a time the domestic population is ageing. I seem to recall that without Mexican immigration and Hispanic birth rates, the American population fails to achieve replacement-rate performance. At a time when entitlements and liabilities are growing.

It begins to look like Russia's grand strategy was to ensure the Middle East remained massively destabilised via Syria and Iran. While Obama maintained tactical engagements in the Middle East, he withdrew troops from active engagement. He didn't take the bait. Whether that was the right decision given what happened in Syria or not is debatable. However, what is clear is that Obama was successful at diverting war funds into funds that powered a domestic growth agenda. Far from the mess Trump claims Obama left him with, Obama's domestic policies gave America a strong foundation from which to grow. Given that he came into office after the financial crisis, his economic agenda was hugely effective given what could have happened...

And yet it didn't touch everyone in America. Many were left behind. To be fair, that wasn't Obama's fault. Those communities were left behind long ago as the industries that powered them died. America's structural deficiencies and intra-state competition for education meant that new industries never arrived in those places. Those that could leave, left. Those that could not leave, stayed. Given that electoral college votes are by district, if capable people left declining areas, over time, those areas shifted to whole districts of incapable people. Those left behind.

Is it any wonder that the message that resonated was Make America Great Again? Those on the coasts reacted to that message with incredulity. The American coasts represent some of the most advanced societies the world has ever seen. However that internal migration of the capable to the coasts left the interior hollowed out. Waiting for an ultimate solution. Not a step change in government, but a complete overhaul.

What's any of that got to do with Russia? Presume for a moment that Trump is telling the Truth and he has had no deals with Russia. No connections. That he is not in the pocket of the Russians, and in fact, he's now becoming more hawkish against them and their client states. That doesn't mean his win wasn't still the superior outcome for Russia. If the intent of Russia was to destabilise the United States, Donald Trump was the perfect mark. Devoid of previous policy experience. Distrusting of experts. Cavalier and intent on reshaping the government in his own image.

First and foremost, Russia needed the Hilary Clinton not to win. Hence the constant attacks and leaks. A Clinton win would ensure America's policy of containing Russia continued. The Obama nuclear deal with Iran meant decreased Russian influence in the Middle East. Open American borders meant strong ties with the rest of the world. De facto support for NATO meant a strong transatlantic partnership with Europe, and a continuation of the sanctions. Meanwhile, faced with diminishing fossil fuel prospects, Putin was fast running out of the financial narcotic keeping him in power. In another way, perhaps it wasn't Russia's time that was becoming limited, it was Putin's time. Putin who rescued Russia from descent into malaise and ultimate implosion.

Russia's priority first becomes ensuring Hilary Clinton does not win. Rather than the practiced hand of experience, they want the volatile and inexperienced billionaire. The one with an appetite for attention, and an overpowering ego. His victory could go either way for Russia, whereas a Clinton victory was inherently negative.

Facilitating Trump's victory meant doing exactly what the quote at the end of the article says. Destablise the American population. Turn them against each other. Provoke deep divisions and a distrust of the Obama administration, democrats in general, and of Washington itself. Could that be done with a simple hack of the DNC?

If the Trump campaign was truly isolated from Russian influence itself, then the call that the Russians made correctly was that the Trump campaign would use an initial destabilisation to further their own interests. Once the email leaks came out and Trump and the GOP saw enough dirty pool could win, the gloves came off. What started with the DNC leaks become Comey's bizarre manipulation of the media cycle. Far from rebuking Russian intervention for the safety of American integrity, the Republicans and Trump fully exploited it. The best thing for America would have been for them to rebuke the DNC attacks and make the fight as fair as possible.

Instead, Trump and the GOP picked up the ball and ran with it. Their only chance at victory a deeply divided America. They won – just barely – but their victory means that they have to keep going in the directions that divided Americans. Border closures. Military spending. Tax cuts. All policies that will weaken America's global and financial position, rather than enhance it.

Further, the populous remains sharply divided, and both Congress and Trump now are focused on keeping support of their base. The situation becomes so bad that Congresspeople can't even attended town hall meetings with their constituents. America becomes more sharply divided with each passing day. Rather than proposing systematic fixes to the problems, Trump and the GOP talk about shifting budget spending. Basically moving money around to support their constituents, both wealthy and poor. Huge deficit spending and public-private partnerships to support military spending and dumb assets like a wall that itself has no greater value than the government contracts it will generate.

Meanwhile, last night, Trump reiterated unconditional support for Israel and called out Iran. He spoke of a plan to exterminate ISIS. Which sounds like a foreign war. America First and his focus on countries paying their own way sounds like it's going to be the United States and a mercenary army of countries going into the Middle East to achieve a final solution to the problem. One that eliminates terrorist ideologies, secures Israeli borders, and removes further threats to the United States. In doing that, he plays right into Russia's hands. Russia which supports Syria and Iran. A proxy war, only where America has stated its interests are America First and its agenda is set by White Nationalists.

There can be no city on the hill vision if that is the war to come. Only a divided and fearful America lashing out across the world. Ignoring fundamental problems and economic weaknesses by ramping up military spending and going abroad. Closed borders that mean whatever the result of America's actions, the gains are taken for itself alone.

If that is the trap that Putin set, then Trump is playing right into it. And in doing that, Trump will succeed in a pronounced accomplishment. Uniting Russia and China against a common enemy, and giving rise to a true Pan-Asian movement ensuring the primacy of Russia.

Finally, the strongest signal of the game afoot is the speed at which America is closing its borders and the degree to which it now isolates itself. Domestic violence is a far greater danger to most Americans than external violence from terrorism. The United States has extremely strong systems in place that minimise the likelihood of foreign terrorism. Yet the country walls itself off as if there is a serious, immediate external threat, potentially existential in nature.

Either ISIS got hold of a nuclear weapon and that's been kept extremely quiet, or Trump is not reacting to today's terrorist threats, but preparing for something much bigger tomorrow. Given the rhetoric and the speech last night, his decisions and words smell of war. The kind of hollow war countries go on to pacify internal divisions and create a common emergency. Paradoxically, if that's the case, the divisions created and resulting emergency stem from the Republican and Trump's own actions – when they saw the benefit of deeply, perhaps permanently, dividing the country.

Maybe all they needed was a little bait. A shove toward the dark side. To be shown how hacked emails changed poll numbers in their favour. A campaign desperate to win. A candidate known for his moral ambiguity and fundamentally weak ego – a man who would do anything to win. A now a man who will do anything to keep winning...

“A country that is beset by turbulence closes up on itself..."
posted by nickrussell at 7:48 AM on March 1 [49 favorites]


Also, given the other thread on disengagement, I feel comfortable saying that some of the commentators here are fine with Russia winning provided that that means the US-led world order is destabilized.

I don't think that's what people are saying at all. I think most people would be very comfortable with a US-led world order if our rhetoric matched our actions.


I don't like doing this sort of thing, but it's fair to say that certain posters have a tendency to condemn American policy (and most MeFites) as hypocritically murderous at every turn, while using exactly the tactic of 'whataboutism' to reject any similar criticism of Russia, credit every conspiracy that relies on American perfidy while dismissing stuff like the DNC hacks as unproved, and have an evident attachment to the history and the legacy of the USSR as something positive.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:05 AM on March 1 [11 favorites]


(In terms of proving Russian involvement and/or relationships, Adam Khan has made it his mission to get to the bottom – as far to the bottom as possible – of the Trump-Russia connection. He's publishing a wealth of material that one can review in order to draw their own conclusions.

Ultimately, until there is true evidence released publicly, the best one can do regarding Russian involvement is to draw their own conclusions, while also remembering it remains an open question.)
posted by nickrussell at 8:21 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


I think most people would be very comfortable with a US-led world order if our rhetoric matched our actions.

Aha! So, you're the one that softly whispered that fateful wish to the Monkey's Paw about two years ago.
posted by FJT at 8:46 AM on March 1 [6 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. This thing about focusing on individuals in the thread is a dead end; please cool it. There's an article to discuss. Also please don't use the edit function to add or change content; just make a second comment with your corrected text and flag the old one for deletion.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:58 AM on March 1


Remember when Reagan was shot because John Hinckley wanted to impress Jodie Foster? It was sort-of-funny and deeply disturbing. And the Reagan White House was apparently not in good control. But, really, Trump is miles worse, which is saying a lot, and I worry that we'll go to war to impress Putin, or to prove that his hands are normal size, or to please his new military-industrial-billionaire buddies.
posted by theora55 at 9:57 AM on March 1


Given the rhetoric and the speech last night, his decisions and words smell of war. The kind of hollow war countries go on to pacify internal divisions and create a common emergency

I don't see a president getting by with this any time soon. Back in 2002-2003, I side-eyed GWBs claims on Iraq but kept mostly quiet because what if there was something to the claims of WMD?

Not a mistake I'll make again--especially with the current administration. Judging by the election results, I feel confident in saying I'm in the majority on this one. Trump (and the Republicans in congress) are wildly overplaying their hands if they think they can push the US into another war.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 9:57 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


[Aelfwine Evenstar and snuffleupagus, please drop it. Thread is about article, talk about article or go do something else.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:03 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


Trump (and the Republicans in congress) are wildly overplaying their hands if they think they can push the US into another war.

I sure hope that's right, and it stays right even if some kind of Tonkin Persian Gulf situation with Iran pushes gas to $5/gallon or more. Given Bannon's various remarks, it's not hard to imagine their big plan being selling out Ukraine and the 'Stans to Russia and in exchange for aligning with NATO (or part of it) against Iran and divvying up the spoils. Being, the oil. The Saudis get to finally be rid of their Shiite rivals and consolidate control of the Islamic world, at least in the Middle East.

It's on the level of a comic book or techno-thriller plot, but it's about what I'd expect from this crew.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:41 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


America spent a great deal of treasure and effort during the post WWII era trying to disabuse the world of the notion that a nuclear standoff was a viable diplomatic strategy. Even among Americans, there were those who thought that a first strike was the way to go. I believe we teetered on the edge of a nuclear exchange more than once or twice, but diplomats on both sides (even without abandoning their confrontational postures) managed to keep the two major players from launching the missiles. Between the Reagan and Clinton eras, we seemed to have wrenched the hands of the doomsday clock back a minute or two. B43 pushed the hands forward a bit; Trump seems unaware of the possibility that he may screw up something enough to have to take responsibility for the results. The notion of (limited) proxy wars seems to escape them. Bullies are not usually patient enough for subtle schemes.

I suspect that our current administration is not staffed with those who have the wisdom and experience to understand how delicate it is for alpha players to rattle their sabers without launching nuclear weapons. Indeed, I suspect that the drivers of this particular ship of state believe that they are above any results of their actions except the wealth they stand to accumulate while in power. Their hubris could bring us the perfect Henny Penny moment.

I dunno, either Dr. Strangelove or Road Warrior. Maybe On The Beach.

To my kids: sorry about that. I thought Disco was the worst that would happen. Goes to show that no nightmare is too far out.
posted by mule98J at 1:19 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


The failure on the part of the US and other Western powers to protect Ukraine's territorial boundaries, after giving security guarantees in return for them giving up their nuclear weapons, is about the worst-possible outcome if you favor nonproliferation and arms control.

If they had nukes, they'd probably still have their territory. But they don't, and so they don't.

That's the lesson that other states are going to see and take away. A security guarantee from the US isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Nuclear weapons, however, as the North Koreans are currently demonstrating, make you basically untouchable. That is how things work once the current internationalist, treaty-based order breaks down: you either have city-busters, or you're at the mercy of whoever does and has the capability of putting one over you.

The Iranians will be the next to join the club, and if that goes without serious repercussions it wouldn't surprise me if some other states decide it's about time to take their sovereignty into their own hands. Maybe some of the Central Asian states, who are uncomfortably pinned between China and Russia, or maybe the Saudis if they're starting to feel like we're a bit wishy-washy on propping up their little theocracy, or maybe some of the other countries that have traditionally depended on the US but might decide they want their own deterrent (e.g. Taiwan, S. Korea, Japan). There are a lot of possibilities.

So no, I don't think anyone (at least, in the US who's a fan of arms control) wishes that we'd just let the Ukranians keep the Soviet-surplus stockpile. (The Russians would probably have just taken it by force before the Ukrainians figured out how to disable the PALs, anyway.) But it's certainly really damn unfortunate that we provided such a clear example of why we can't be trusted the next time we try to talk a state out of pursuing their own.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:04 PM on March 1 [14 favorites]


I would argue that North Korea's stability has more to do with Chinese support and proximity to Seoul than the presence of very crappy nuclear weapons (excepting insofar as said weapons can be dropped on Seoul, but conventional missiles would work just as well for these purposes).
posted by smoke at 3:29 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


That's the lesson that other states are going to see and take away. A security guarantee from the US isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

I think this is even more important than whether you can definitively say that Ukraine would still have control of their territory (that's obviously important, but harder to prove either way). Although with the current president I suppose it's to be expected the US's word means jack.
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:36 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Saudis if they're starting to feel like we're a bit wishy-washy on propping up their little theocracy

My understanding was the Pakistani gov't probably built and is holding some bombs for the Saudi royals.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:01 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


Also, given the other thread on disengagement, I feel comfortable saying that some of the commentators here are fine with Russia winning provided that that means the US-led world order is destabilized.

Winning what?

Consequences for people in Europe vs. avoidable loss of life - those are meaningful ways to frame these questions for me. "America winning" vs. "America losing" really isn't one way or the other.
posted by atoxyl at 5:26 PM on March 1 [9 favorites]


Jeff Sessions will totally be great as AG, overseeing the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russia's alleged role in the 2016 presidential election, even after the Washington Post reports that Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose. But he did it as member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, so that's totally normal, right?

Except those meetings were "at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race." But maybe it was on official SASC business, right? So the Washington Post contacted all 26 members of the 2016 Senate Armed Services Committee to and of the 20 lawmakers who responded, every senator said they did not meet with the Russian ambassador last year. [Weasely point here: did they meet with any other Russians as part of SASC business? Unknown]

Democrats are calling for Sessions to resign over this, while Republicans say they'll join in that call if something of substance is discovered through investigation by the FBI, who are still under Sessions....
posted by filthy light thief at 7:34 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


One of the characteristics of strategies based on a nuclear arsenal is parity. Parity can be simulated by a small country with (only a few, or no) nuclear weapons if it's closely allied with a large country, or strong coalition of countries, that can stand opposed to a large nuclear power. For example the US and the Soviet Union were constantly struggling to maintain the illusion of parity regarding nuclear capability. Hindsight revealed an apples and orange type of reality, but we dealt with each other as if we each thought the other was slightly advanced in numbers of devices and carriers of devices, and we kept ourselves busy making new warheads and delivery systems, and engaging in layers upon layers of spying tactics. It was expensive, but then our very existence was seen to be at stake, and we got to create a large job market. Okay, it was an open end expense to the taxpayer, but never mind about that. It seemed like we would probably be incinerated before we starved.

At some point the fiction wore pretty thin, perhaps in part because the estimated tonnage in nuclear exchanges would leave the Earth decimated. Many people thought this was a not a good idea. At the time, nuclear parity made the "Mutual Assured Destruction" nature of defense strategy so obvious that we (superpowers, as we liked to say of ourselves) began to actually notice the significant draining our GNP. In fact the Soviet Union was in worse fiscal shape than we were. A useful paradigm is exemplified by the cartoon of two people, each holding a cocked pistol to the other's head, each waiting for the other to blink. You perhaps will have had to live through the transition, where the scourge of Communism was the existential booger-bear that suddenly evaporated to notice that nuclear weapons were not actually necessary.

Nuclear weapons are a failed answer to the existential question. Once a country's existential remedy seems to require these weapons, they are already on the road to extinction. The very foe that they want to defend against will pursue nuclear parity in a desperate effort to make itself secure. It could be that everyone under the age of, say, 50, won't have a space in their heart to remember nuclear brinksmanship. To those people I beg you to really really try to imagine extinction as a possible result of a single failed act of statesmanship.

In fact nuclear parity is much like the machine gun, which invention was predicted to end all wars on account of its horrible ability to mow down troops in gobs and bunches. In fact, however, war wasn't prevented, but rather tactics evolved to maximize the effect of this weapon: in this case mine fields and choke points. The battle of the Somme displayed this tactic in one wonderful outing. Nuclear weapons are best used by decimating the enemy's launch tubes before they can respond: first strike. Naturally Polaris submarines and mobile launch site ensure any first rate country a second or maybe even a third strike. A successful strategy, then, is when in doubt, whip it out. We can't wait for that lunatic to push the button first, so it's up to us.

My nuke is bigger than your nuke sounds okay until you think it through. We shouldn't continue to pursue the spheres of influence diplomacy our colonial predecessors enjoyed. The natives are no longer in awe of our gadgetry.
posted by mule98J at 12:00 PM on March 2 [6 favorites]


My understanding was the Pakistani gov't probably built and is holding some bombs for the Saudi royals.

I was unaware of that (it's not something I'd ever looked into), but some basic research does seem to suggest that there's a consensus opinion that there's been a flow of money in the form of cash and oil discounts from SA to Pakistan, and then a flow of nuclear enrichment technology from Pakistan to North Korea in return for missile technology from NK back to Pakistan, and from there in finished form to SA, either in actual material fact or kept "on deck" in Pakistan. Cute.

Also, there's some interesting stuff out there in the desert. Hmmmm...

This all furthers my suspicion that the current nonproliferation regime is sort of a handkerchief, and that when it falls, it's going to reveal some real ugliness underneath.

Once a country's existential remedy seems to require these weapons, they are already on the road to extinction.

That's quite a claim. The evidence of this is... what? With the exception of Ukraine, which gave them up, and possibly a few uninhabited rocks near the Kurils that trade hands periodically between the Russians and the Japanese, no country in possession of nuclear weapons has had any of its territory taken by force. (I'd say "seized" except the Argentines were crazy enough to call the UK's bluff and try it, that one time.) They seem to work really well in terms of getting people to stop eyeballing your land as a source for their elbow room, or push you around geopolitically.

I get that nuclear weapons are terrible, and it'd be nice if everyone viewed their use as unconscionable, but there are whole books written about the situations in which nuclear weapons might possibly be used and it's not a short list. There are a great many situations where nation-state leaders might be willing to consider a tactical nuclear deployment, or even a strategic one, as preferable to some other outcome. We'd be wrong to just pretend those situations don't exist, or that there aren't entirely rational situations (i.e. that we can play out via game theory, and given a certain set of preconditions it's the optimal move) where someone might decide to press the big red button. Preventing the use of nuclear weapons requires, in fact, a very hard-headed assessment of those circumstances, IMO.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:21 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


Putin has the political goals of ending Western democracy as we know it?

Most Western democracies are not fans of Russia. Putin does not like this. Putin has realized that Western-style democracies offer opportunities for subversion that regimes like China's do not. He's tried this out with great effect in a number of Eastern European countries and his efforts to do so in the USA have worked better than his wildest dreams. Subverting elections of Western democracies allows him to install autocratic puppets, and has the dual effect of ending those democracies.

Additionally, he feels Western-style democracies, left unmanaged, result in the election of leaders that oppose his geopolitical goals. So yes, he wants to end Western democracy as we know it.
posted by schroedinger at 3:20 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]


Far from a forward-looking vision toward the future, last night was a litany of regressive policies. Everything from coal, to oil, to military spending.

Building a bridge to the twentieth century.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:23 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


What Putin Is Up To, The Atlantic
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:15 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


Once a country's existential remedy seems to require these weapons, they are already on the road to extinction.

That's quite a claim. The evidence of this is... what?


Indulge me a bit. I will try to minimize the backfill.

The two superpowers, the US and Soviet Union, played brinksmanship until the Soviet Union went bankrupt. Had the US pursued this policy I believe we would have gone bankrupt also--but we would have required another nuclear boogerbear, say, China, to keep up this façade. China was at the cusp of ICBM development in the late 1960's, and was not quite a credible threat but I don't believe this would have stopped the Hawks in the State Department from mounting a political campaign against them, using our nuclear might as the stick. A forgotten nook in history is that during these decades we were officially pretending that China did not exist. Unofficially US electronic monitors were busily scanning their radio horizons for launches, and testing of the sort of emitters associated with ICBMs.

Fortunately for all the minor dictators in the world, guerrilla warfare was being examined, and modified, for use by anybody who could afford an AK-47, and the image of the nuclear exchange faded from the public mind. I am still in awe by the way the Terrible, Impending Communist Threat To The Free World seemed to just evaporate (this was some ten years before the SU finally gave up the ghost in favor of local bullyism.) One day we were singing the Duck and Cover Song, and the next we were singing Kum ba ya. It was magical.

Nowadays we seem to have reexamined nukes. Maybe backpack nukes, or van-driven nukes, or nukes held by some barely sane dictator who can threaten our allies. I agree that tomes have been written about tactical nukes. A member of my team in Vietnam, who came to us from a European LRRP team) told me that they were trained to carry a backpack-nuke into Soviet Territory and set it up on a timer. They would have, he said, about half a hour to clear the area. He said that consensus among his team was that they would be toasted before they got clear, but what the hell. You can see a model of this kit in the Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia. Okay, that plan was worked out in the mid-1960's. I have no doubt that it has generated many many derivatives.

But nukes are so unworthy of all the effort and expense, and we barely even have to pretend to sponsor proxy wars anymore. Nukes are dangerous because they cannot be controlled by treaty--when push comes to shove the aggressor will simply disenfranchise any inspectors and send in his whatevers. You control nuclear missiles by hitting them in their silos, or knocking down perhaps 90% of them in flight. The biggest elephant in this room is that it doesn't take a nuke to counter a nuke. It takes a couple of AWAKs and a flight of stealth bombers/interceptors to render them useless.

We are still using old paradigms to assert power. Projection of force is how you give the enemy a target to nibble at (the Maginot Line, the Southern Iraqi No Fly Zone), while you posture and show off all your neat toys. Nukes are the theoretical ultimate toy in our arsenal, and the least useful. You point out, correctly, that no country with nukes has been successfully invaded. But that's not proof that the nukes fended off the invasion. I can make the argument that a small country with a few nukes would be foolish indeed to launch at a power with enough nukes to glass over the entire nation. It's hard to imagine even NATO members participating in such a global clusterfuck.

Bigger guns and more bombs is a fading paradigm. Any JDAM can be countered with a wad of C-4, a bag of nails, and a telephone. It seems that the apples and oranges is better press than nukes and stealth bombers, because they won't run out of disaffected relatives before we run out of ways to justify our presence in their country.
posted by mule98J at 10:58 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I can make the argument that a small country with a few nukes would be foolish indeed to launch at a power with enough nukes to glass over the entire nation

If the country is being invaded, why would it care? Also, nukes are powerful weapons. If a nuke or two can take out a major city (Moscow, say, or NYC), then that really changes the calculus performed by the invading army.

Saying, "nukes don't matter" is a hypothesis, and it's one that hasn't been tested. In the absence of nukes, Russia felt free to invade the Ukraine. That's all we know for a fact. Maybe nukes would have helped, maybe they wouldn't have, but they're a weapon that Ukraine lacked.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 12:15 PM on March 4


It takes a couple of AWAKs and a flight of stealth bombers/interceptors to render them useless.

You mean AWACS, right?

If so this statement doesn't seem true to me, though I'm just a layperson. Even ignoring submarine-launched missiles or other types of mobile launchers, I would think that only a small fraction of stationary missile silos could be destroyed by aircraft before a retaliatory strike was launched.

There's a proliferation of ways that modern nations and sub-national groups can attack each other, but it seems like those are in addition to nuclear conflicts rather than mooting them.
posted by XMLicious at 1:39 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Sounds like they're getting pretty creative with anti-missile approaches—"left of launch":

U.S. Strategy to Hobble North Korea Was Hidden in Plain Sight
posted by XMLicious at 2:49 AM on March 5


Um...intercepting 90% of a strategic launch with AWACS and ASAT variant F-15s (of which we built a couple demonstrators) and conducting counterforce with B1s, B2s and F-117s is some kind of Dale Brown nonsense, and a good 20 years out of date at that.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:41 AM on March 5


If the country is being invaded, why would it care?

You refer to "I'd rather die than get captured" theory? Other than perhaps North Korea, I find it hard to believe that any sane nation would prefer incineration to occupation. As one option, NATO comes to mind. Alternatively, some countries might look to guerrilla warfare as the mode of choice.

Um...intercepting 90% of a strategic launch with AWACS and ASAT variant F-15s (of which we built a couple demonstrators) and conducting counterforce with B1s, B2s and F-117s is some kind of Dale Brown nonsense, and a good 20 years out of date at that.
posted by snuffleupagus


Yeah, that's (twenty years out of date) a very kind reading of my notions in this area. Do you suppose we could handle more, or less, than 90% of a strike launched by land-based and sub-based Russian launchers? When I was a small sprocket in this field we thought we'd see two or three thousand incoming on the first launch, and nobody would be in any position to deal with submarine first and third strike launches. In one area targeted by the Soviets I understood that they had about 230 individual warheads in queue, of which we could reasonably assumed to intercept 90% before the vehicles reentered the atmosphere. That left only about 20 hydrogen bombs for the kids on the ground to deal with. The place in question, as I remember it, was about 60X90 miles in area, in the state of Oklahoma.

I'm pretty sure our satellite and other collection methods can find hard silos and probably most mobile launch vehicles. Using a nuke or a smart bomb works only when you find the target; it doesn't matter which you use. I would hope that we have improved our ability to take out ICBMs from back in the day when we stood eyeball to eyeball with the Soviets.

It's easy enough to think of countries such as Israel or Pakistan having a nuclear exchange, and somehow believe, as far as ICBMs go, that we don't have a dog in that fight. I suspect that any foreign policy subsequently developed will have significantly different contours than those we now employ. In any case, a nuclear exchange is like the death penalty, in seeming like a good idea visited on a bad actor. But, like the death penalty, you can't change your mind or renegotiate your position.

All that moralistic posturing I do is irrelevant. As a tool of war, nukes are not as effective as several others we have in our arsenal. They seem fine because we don't have to send any Americans "over there" to die for whatever. My core argument is that other tools can do what nukes do, even countering a nuclear strike. Our military-industrial complex works better, too, because of the variety of tools gadgets we are developing in the area of international relations,.

Asymmetric Warfare is the new nuke. Go war.
posted by mule98J at 12:21 PM on March 5


I thought you were talking about intercepting ICBMs in boost phase using interceptors and ASAT missiles which is not an actual capability we have (cancelled some time around 1990), let alone basing and airframes and alert time to, so my answer to that is 0%.

We know, roughly, how well the current anti-missile tech works and it's not well enough to make me casual about even a limited nuclear exchange. Presuming that's even a thing that would happen.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:17 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


You refer to "I'd rather die than get captured" theory? Other than perhaps North Korea, I find it hard to believe that any sane nation would prefer incineration to occupation. As one option, NATO comes to mind. Alternatively, some countries might look to guerrilla warfare as the mode of choice.

If you knew your own city were on the line, is that a gamble you'd be willing to take?

To be blunt, I don't think you know what you're talking about.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:08 PM on March 5


You refer to "I'd rather die than get captured" theory? Other than perhaps North Korea, I find it hard to believe that any sane nation would prefer incineration to occupation. As one option, NATO comes to mind. Alternatively, some countries might look to guerrilla warfare as the mode of choice.

Fail-deadly? Second-strike? I don't think it's a theory, I think it's an actual design principle of nuclear arsenals that if the system perceives an imminent threat that will impair its capability to retaliate, it uses that capability automatically while it's still possible.

The sane nations are the ones which don't build a nuclear arsenal in the first place.
posted by XMLicious at 8:40 PM on March 5


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