Speaking at Minot Air Force Base (North Dakota) on Monday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter accused Russia of «nuclear saber-rattling» and argued that even though the Cold War is long over, the US Army still needs nuclear weapons to deter Russia and other potential aggressors from thinking they could get away with a nuclear attack.
However, knowing it would be difficult to sell the image of «Russian aggressors» as suicidal, (everything will burn in a global nuclear war, including those who started it), the head of the Pentagon was quick to say that people should probably not expect a global conflict. «Today», he stated, «it’s a sobering fact that the most likely use of nuclear weapons is not the massive nuclear exchange of the classic Cold War-type, but rather the unwise resort to smaller but still unprecedentedly terrible attacks, for example, by Russia or North Korea».
The manner in which Ashton Carter frightened his audience could be considered a banal attempt to get even more money to modernise America’s nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. It seems that the $108 billion he mentioned, which will be used for this purpose over the next five years, is not enough for the Pentagon.
Carter’s speech in North Dakota was not limited to this, however. The head of the Pentagon also expressed attitudes of a political-military and international legal nature.
I would like to ask: what has Russia done, exactly, to justify the US Defense Secretary’s allegation that Moscow is preparing «unprecedentedly terrible attacks» involving the use of nuclear weapons? Has it issued the kind of threats that have made the world more volatile, perhaps? Or abandoned its international obligations? Or is it following America’s example and deploying nuclear weapons outside of its borders?
We can assume that our negative responses to all these questions are neither here nor there to Mr. Carter, but there is an expert who responds in the same vein that Carter cannot disregard so easily, and that is one of his predecessors at the US Department of Defense, former US Defense Secretary William Perry. When asked by journalists how much more volatile the world has become in recent years, Perry replied: «Fundamentally nothing has changed… The number of weapons are sufficient to destroy, obliterate all of civilization… It doesn’t take that many. We still have more than 1,000 nuclear weapons on alert ready to go».
In other words, neither Russia’s position as a nuclear power nor the status of America’s nuclear capabilities gives grounds for warmongering and the rapid modernisation of strategic nuclear forces (nuclear deterrents). In this regard, William Perry has unwittingly disarmed his successor.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that Carter ranked Russia alongside North Korea among the «potential aggressors» preparing «unprecedentedly terrible attacks». He is willing to admit that Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are very different countries, but they are seemingly distinguished by the fact that both are prepared to resort to a nuclear attack «to try to coerce a conventionally superior opponent to back off or abandon an ally during a crisis».
It is characteristic that, in unison with Carter, Theresa May also pointed to Russia and North Korea as potential threats in her first parliamentary speech as UK Prime Minister, when she justified the need to modernise the UK’s nuclear arsenal.
If Pyongyang is aspiring to become a fully-fledged member of the nuclear club in violation of UN sanctions, carrying out nuclear weapons testing, and stating its willingness to launch a nuclear strike against US and South Korean armed forces in the event of provocation in the Asia-Pacific Region, then how is any of this similar to Russia’s actions? It’s not. Yet the head of the Pentagon has brought Russia and North Korea together as nuclear threats and has undoubtedly made this sound significant. One must assume that Moscow is drawing conclusions from this.
There is another side to Ashton Carter naming Russia and North Korea as the main nuclear threats, however. While Russia, China, North Korea and Iran were identified in the US National Military Strategy, updated last year, as «revisionist states» that need to be countered, Iran and China have now (take note!) disappeared from the traditional group of ‘global villains’. Why Iran – following the closure of Iran’s nuclear dossier and the lifting of international sanctions – is understandable. But China? Or is it that against the backdrop of the «Russian danger», the US does not regard China’s nuclear weapons as a threat?
Hardly. It is simply that with such a curious selection of targets, Carter is aiming to divide Beijing and Moscow, which hold similar, and in some cases identical, positions on a number of key issues of strategic stability and the strengthening of the nuclear deterrent regime.
One merely has to consider the joint initiative of Russia and China to prevent the placement of weapons in space that was announced at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly last year and that was rejected by the United States, incidentally. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who spoke at the ongoing 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, «the start of substantial negotiations on… the Russian-Chinese draft Treaty on the Non-Deployment of Weapons in Space could end the impasse over the key component of the multilateral disarmament mechanism – the Disarmament Conference».
Ashton Carter’s lengthy speech at the military base in North Dakota did not contain a single concrete fact that would implicate Russia in attempts to undermine strategic stability, but the United States is undertaking such attempts. One need only think of America’s plans to deploy additional modernised nuclear weapons – ‘general-purpose’ B61-12 bombs – in Europe. There will be plenty of these US bombs in the Old World – estimates range from 250 to 400. And the fact that these new bombs are «more ethical», as the Pentagon puts it, i.e. they have a smaller yield, only exacerbates the situation. A smaller yield, but greater accuracy. This may suggest that they are going to be used against military targets, including in densely-populated areas.
Finally, the US is planning to give the right of control over the use of these nuclear weapons systems to its European allies and is already training military pilots in Poland and the Baltic States how to use the nuclear weapons. This is a direct violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as recently emphasised by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
By accusing Russia, without evidence, of intending to depart from the «long-established rules of using nuclear weapons» (to quote Carter’s speech once again), the US is using this accusation as a cover for its own actions, which are undermining the nuclear non-proliferation regime.