Michael Klare: How the US Plays Nuclear Chicken with Russia and China

Yves here. Nuclear eye-poking isn’t the action of a responsible, calculating player. The only rationale I can think of is when Henry Kissinger played up Richard Nixon as unpredictable and dangerous, since Kissinger thought that presenting Nixon as dangerously quick-trigger might help win concessions. But it’s one thing to engage in provocations as proof that a leader is hot-headed, and quite another to make it national strategy.

Needless to say, nuclear posturing with Russia doesn’t go well with the Dem insistence that Hair Furore is a great buddy of Putin.

By Michael T. Klare, the five-college professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and a senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. He is the author of 15 books, the latest of which is All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. Originally published at TomDispatch

On August 21st, six nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers, representing approximately one-seventh of the war-ready U.S. B-52H bomber fleet, flew from their home base in North Dakota to Fairford Air Base in England for several weeks of intensive operations over Europe. Although the actual weapons load of those giant bombers was kept secret, each of them is capable of carrying eight AGM-86B nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) in its bomb bay. Those six planes, in other words, could have been carrying 48 city-busting thermonuclear warheads. (The B-52H can also carry 12 ALCMs on external pylons, but none were visible on this occasion.) With such a load alone, in other words, those six planes possessed the capacity to incinerate much of western Russia, including Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The B-52 Stratofortress is no ordinary warplane. First flown in 1952, it was designed with a single purpose in mind: to cross the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean and drop dozens of nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union. Some models were later modified to deliver tons of conventional bombs on targets in North Vietnam and other hostile states, but the remaining B-52s are still largely configured for intercontinental nuclear strikes. With only 44 of them now thought to be in active service at any time, those six dispatched to the edge of Russian territory represented a significant commitment of American nuclear war-making capability.

What in god’s name were they doing there? According to American officials, they were intended to demonstrate this country’s ability to project overwhelming power anywhere on the planet at any time and so remind our NATO allies of Washington’s commitment to their defense. “Our ability to quickly respond and assure allies and partners rests upon the fact that we are able to deploy our B-52s at a moment’s notice,” commented General Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. “Their presence here helps build trust with our NATO allies… and affords us new opportunities to train together through a variety of scenarios.”

While Harrigian didn’t spell out just what scenarios he had in mind, the bombers’ European operations suggest that their role involved brandishing a nuclear “stick” in support of an increasingly hostile stance toward Russia. During their sojourn in Europe, for example, two of them flew over the Baltic Sea close to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania that houses several key military installations. That September 25th foray coincided with a U.S. troop buildup in Lithuania about 65 miles from election-embattled Belarus, a Russian neighbor.

Since August 9th, when strongman Alexander Lukashenko declared victory in a presidential election widely considered fraudulent by his people and much of the international community, Belarus has experienced recurring anti-government protests. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that his country might intervene there if the situation “gets out of control,” while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has implicitly warned of U.S. intervention if Russia interferes. “We stand by our long-term commitment to support Belarus’ sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as the aspiration of the Belarusian people to choose their leader and to choose their own path, free from external intervention,” he insisted on August 20th. The flight of those B-52s near Belarus can, then, be reasonably interpreted as adding a nuclear dimension to Pompeo’s threat.

In another bomber deployment with no less worrisome implications, on September 4th, three B-52s, accompanied by Ukrainian fighter planes, flew over the Black Sea near the coast of Russian-held Crimea. Like other B-52 sorties near its airspace, that foray prompted the rapid scrambling of Russian interceptor aircraft, which often fly threateningly close to American planes.

At a moment when tensions were mounting between the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebel areas in the eastern part of the country, the deployment of those bombers off Crimea was widely viewed as yet another nuclear-tinged threat to Moscow. As Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), tweeted, “Extraordinary decision to send a nuclear bomber so close to contested and tense areas. This is a real in-your-face statement.”

And provocative as they were, those were hardly the only forays by U.S. nuclear bombers in recent months. B-52s also ventured near Russian air space in the Arctic and within range of Russian forces in Syria. Meanwhile other B-52s, as well as nuclear-capable B-1 and B-2 bombers, have flown similar missions near Chinese positions in the South China Sea and the waters around the disputed island of Taiwan. Never since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 have so many U.S. nuclear bombers been engaged in “show-of-force” operations of this sort.

“Demonstrating Resolve” and Coercing Adversaries

States have long engaged in military operations to intimidate other powers. Once upon a distant time, this would have been called “gunboat diplomacy” and naval vessels would have been the instruments of choice for such missions. The arrival of nuclear arms made such operations far more dangerous. This didn’t, however, stop the U.S. from using weaponry of this sort as tools of intimidation throughout the Cold War. In time, however, even nuclear strategists began condemning acts of “nuclear coercion,” arguing that such weaponry was inappropriate for any purpose other than “deterrence” — that is, using the threat of “massive retaliation” to prevent another country from attacking you. In fact, a deterrence-only posture eventually became Washington’s official policy, even if the temptation to employ nukes as political cudgels never entirely disappeared from its strategic thinking.

At a more hopeful time, President Barack Obama sought to downsize this country’s nuclear arsenal and prevent the use of such weapons for anything beyond deterrence (although his administration also commenced an expensive “modernization” of that arsenal). In his widely applauded Nobel Peace Prize speech of April 5, 2009, Obama swore to “put an end to Cold War thinking” and “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.” Unfortunately, Donald Trump has sought to move the dial in the opposite direction, including increasing the use of nukes as coercive instruments.

The president’s deep desire to bolster the role of nuclear weapons in national security was first spelled out in his administration’s Nuclear Posture Review of February 2018. In addition to calling for the accelerated modernization of the nuclear arsenal, it also endorsed the use of such weapons to demonstrate American “resolve” — in other words, a willingness to go to the nuclear brink over political differences. A large and diverse arsenal was desirable, the document noted, to “demonstrate resolve through the positioning of forces, messaging, and flexible response options.” Nuclear bombers were said to be especially useful for such a purpose: “Flights abroad,” it stated, “display U.S. capabilities and resolve, providing effective signaling for deterrence and assurance, including in times of tension.”

Ever since, the Trump administration has been deploying the country’s nuclear bomber fleet of B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s with increasing frequency to “display U.S. capabilities and resolve,” particularly with respect to Russia and China.

The supersonic B-1B Lancer, developed in the 1970s, was originally meant to replace the B-52 as the nation’s premier long-range nuclear bomber. After the Cold War ended, however, it was converted to carry conventional munitions and is no longer officially designated as a nuclear delivery system — though it could be reconfigured for this purpose at any time. The B-2 Spirit, with its distinctive flying-wing design, was the first U.S. bomber built with “stealth” capabilities (meant to avoid detection by enemy radar systems) and is configured to carry both nuclear and conventional weaponry. For the past year or so, those two planes plus the long-lived B-52 have been used on an almost weekly basis as the radioactive “stick” of U.S. diplomacy around the world.

Nuclear Forays in the Arctic and the Russian Far East

When flying to Europe in August, those six B-52s from North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base took a roundabout route north of Greenland (which President Trump had unsuccessfully offered to purchase in 2019). They finally descended over the Barents Sea within easy missile-firing range of Russia’s vast naval complex at Murmansk, the home for most of its ballistic missile submarines. For Hans Kristensen of FAS, that was another obvious and “pointed message at Russia.”

Strategically speaking, Washington had largely ignored the Arctic until a combination of factors — global warming, accelerated oil and gas drilling in the region, and increased Russian and Chinese military activities there — sparked growing interest. As global temperatures have risen, the Arctic ice cap has been melting at an ever-faster pace, allowing energy firms to exploit the region’s extensive hydrocarbon resources. This, in turn, has led to feverish efforts by the region’s littoral states, led by Russia, to lay claim to such resources and build up their military capabilities there.

In light of these developments, the Trump administration, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has called for an expansion of this country’s Arctic military forces. In a speech delivered at the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland, in May 2019, Pompeo warned of Russia’s growing military stance in the region and pledged a strong American response to it. “Under President Trump,” he declared. “We are fortifying America’s security and diplomatic presence in the area.”

In line with this, the Pentagon has deployed U.S. warships to the Arctic on a regular basis, while engaging in ever more elaborate military exercises there. These have included Cold Response 2020, conducted this spring in Norway’s far north within a few hundred miles of those key Russian bases at Murmansk. For the most part, however, the administration has relied on nuclear-bomber forays to demonstrate its opposition to an increasing Russian role there. In November 2019, for example, three B-52s, accompanied by Norwegian F-16 fighter jets, approached the Russian naval complex at Murmansk, a move meant to demonstrate the Pentagon’s capacity to launch nuclear-armed missiles at one of that country’s most critical military installations.

If the majority of such nuclear forays have occurred near Norway’s far north, the Pentagon has not neglected Russia’s far eastern territory, home of its Pacific Fleet, either. In an unusually brazen maneuver, this May a B-1B bomber flew over the Sea of Okhotsk, an offshoot of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by Russian territory on three sides (Siberia to the north, Sakhalin Island to the west, and the Kamchatka Peninsula to the east).

As if to add insult to injury, the Air Force dispatched two B-52H bombers over the Sea of Okhotsk in June — another first for an aircraft of that type. Needless to say, incursions in such a militarily sensitive area led to the rapid scrambling of Russian fighter aircraft.

The South China Sea and Taiwan

A similar, equally provocative pattern can be observed in the East and South China Seas. Even as President Trump has sought, largely unsuccessfully, to negotiate a trade deal with Beijing, his administration has become increasingly antagonistic towards the Chinese leadership. On July 23rd, Secretary of State Pompeo delivered a particularly hostile speech in the presidential library of Richard Nixon, the very commander-in-chief who first reopened relations with communist China. Pompeo called on American allies to suspend normal relations with Beijing and, like Washington, treat it as a hostile power, much the way the Soviet Union was viewed during the Cold War.

While administration rhetoric amped up, the Department of Defense has been bolstering its capacity to engage and defeat Beijing in any future conflict. In its 2018 National Defense Strategy, as the U.S. military’s “forever wars” dragged on, the Pentagon suddenly labeled China and Russia the two greatest threats to American security. More recently, it singled out China alone as the overarching menace to American national security. “In this era of great-power competition,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared this September, “the Department of Defense has prioritized China, then Russia, as our top strategic competitors.”

The Pentagon’s efforts have largely been focused on the South China Sea, where China has established a network of small military installations on artificial islands created by dredging sand from the sea-bottom near some of the reefs and atolls it claims. American leaders have never accepted the legitimacy of this island-building project and have repeatedly called upon Beijing to dismantle the bases. Such efforts have, however, largely fallen on deaf ears and it’s now evident that the Pentagon is considering military means to eliminate the island threat.

In early July, the U.S. Navy conducted its most elaborate maneuvers to date in those waters, deploying two aircraft carriers there — the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan — plus an escort fleet of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. While there, the two carriers launched hundreds of combat planes in simulated attacks on military bases on the islands the Chinese had essentially built.

At the same time, paratroopers from the Army’s 25th Infantry Division were flown from their home base in Alaska to the Pacific island of Guam in what was clearly meant as a simulated air assault on a (presumably Chinese) military installation. And just to make sure the leadership in Beijing understood that, in any actual encounter with U.S. forces, Chinese resistance would be countered by the maximum level of force deemed necessary, the Pentagon also flew a B-52 bomber over those carriers as they engaged in their provocative maneuvers.

And that was hardly the first visit of a nuclear bomber to the South China Sea. The Pentagon has, in fact, been deploying such planes there on a regular basis since the beginning of 2020. In April, for example, the Air Force dispatched two B-1B Lancers on a 32-hour round-trip from their home at Ellsworth Air Force Base, North Dakota, to that sea and back as a demonstration of its ability to project power even in the midst of the pandemic President Trump likes to call “the Chinese plague.”

Meanwhile, tensions have grown over the status of the island of Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway part of the country. Beijing has been pressuring its leaders to foreswear any moves toward independence, while the Trump administration tacitly endorses just such a future by doing the previously unimaginable — notably, by sending high-level officials, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar among them, on visits to the island and by promising deliveries of increasingly sophisticated weapons. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has upped its military presence in that part of the Pacific, too. The Navy has repeatedly dispatched missile-armed destroyers on “freedom of navigation” missions through the Taiwan Strait, while other U.S. warships have conducted elaborate military exercises in nearby waters.

Needless to say, such provocative steps have alarmed Beijing, which has responded by increasing the incursions of its military aircraft into airspace claimed by Taiwan. To make sure that Beijing fully appreciates the depth of American “resolve” to resist any attempt to seize Taiwan by force, the Pentagon has accompanied its other military moves around the island with — you guessed it — flights of B-52 bombers.

Playing with Fire

And where will all this end? As the U.S. sends nuclear-capable bombers on increasingly provocative flights ever closer to Russian and Chinese territory, the danger of an accident or mishap is bound to grow. Sooner or later, a fighter plane from one of those countries is going to get too close to an American bomber and a deadly incident will occur. And what will happen if a nuclear bomber, armed with advanced missiles and electronics (even conceivably nuclear weapons), is in some fashion downed? Count on one thing: in Donald Trump’s America the calls for devastating retaliation will be intense and a major conflagration cannot be ruled out.

Bluntly put, dispatching nuclear-capable B-52s on simulated bombing runs against Chinese and Russian military installations is simply nuts. Yes, it must scare the bejesus out of Chinese and Russian officials, but it will also prompt them to distrust any future peaceful overtures from American diplomats while further bolstering their own military power and defenses. Eventually, we will all find ourselves in an ever more dangerous and insecure world with the risk of Armageddon lurking just around the corner.

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27 comments

  1. vlade

    You mean sort of like the RAF intercepting Russian Bear nuke-capable planes (which have pretty similar lineage to B-52s) near the UK’s or Norways airspace? Which happens at least few times a year, most recently a month ago? And similarly Russian planes with switched off responders flying close to Baltic/Poland airspace? (which again happens at least as regularly as NATO planes flying over Baltics close to Russian airspace).

    Both play that game (China does it as well, except with Taiwan), very regularly. One of the reasons is to map the responses and the speed of responses (I suspect David may, or may not, be able to say more on this).

    Reply
    1. vlade

      And, to put it out in open, I’m not happy with either. But we’d blame both, not just one, parties. And a solution to that is not, and cannot be, unilateral.

      From that perspective, I’m way more upset about Trump withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty, which gave both NATO and the Rusians right to fly over the other’s territory (on pre-announced flights), which helped both sides with building some levels of trust and checks.

      But that’s something you don’t hear about much anymore.

      Reply
    2. The Rev Kev

      In all fairness, when you said ‘Which happens at least few times a year’ you said it all. The US and its allies are flying aircraft at least a few times a week! And US recon aircraft have been flying at China while having their transponders identifying them as Malaysian aircraft-

      https://theaviationist.com/2020/09/29/yes-u-s-rc-135s-have-used-bogus-hex-codes-to-transmit-a-false-identity-but-its-not-to-fool-china-or-other-enemies/

      The US doing this is as stupid as it is reckless. It is like me driving by your home and sticking a rocket launcher at your home while doing so. What is that supposed to accomplish if you have your own rocket launcher aimed at my home.

      What I will say is that this is a good article except when he has an attack of TDS. It was Obama that authorized over a trillion dollars to upgrade the US nuclear stockpile, not Trump. And I heard Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech mentioned here. It was not a plea for peace but was literally a war speech on behalf of the US. It was bizarre.

      Reply
      1. vlade

        I’m pretty sure B52 flights across the ocean and close to Kaliningrad aren’t happening “a few times a week”. If for nothing else, there’s only few B52s (the post itself says 44) of which part of them are on permanent stand-bys, and not even all are in the US (I believe at least few are at Diego Garcia).

        A trans-oceanic B52 flight is a non-trivial thing, as they usually fly there and back, which means refuelling over Atlantic, and very tiring for the crews (which, as an aside, says even more about how big a deal it is to fly SIX of them in a way described).

        If you have information to the contrary, I’d like to see it.

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        1. The Rev Kev

          Never said that they are flying B-52 BUFFs at them several times a week but they are flying more conventional aircraft at them. But you know that you can launch nukes from fighter-bombers of the sort that the US flies directly at the Russian borders in places like the Black Sea two or three times a week. This has been true since the 1950s of course. It does not matter if it is a B-52 or a smaller fighter-bomber – both can launch nukes. It is not the platform that is important but what thy can launch.

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        2. rkka

          Russia ceased submarine patrols off US coast in 1992. US subs continued patrolling Russia’s coastal waters, as indicated by collisions with Russian subs in 1992 and 1993. Russia finally resumed sub patrols near US in 2007, amid much US squawking.

          No indication that US sub patrols off Russia’s coast ever ceased.

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    3. PlutoniumKun

      China has been buzzing Taiwan and Japanese airspace recently, although not with obviously nuke capable aircraft. The Chinese at least keep their nukes at a much lower state of readiness and I don’t think ever overtly use them in shows of force. And it should be said that while the Bear is nuclear capable, most of those used over the Atlantic are reconnassance aircraft (the Tu-142 varient), the same really can’t be said of the B-52’s.

      Its hard not to see the US moves as more of a sign of weakness than strength. Its not as if Russia and China aren’t entirely aware of its nuclear capability, using big noisy aircraft in this way is more than a little crass and I doubt succeeds in doing anything but putting everyone on edge. I really wonder if its intended strategically or its more a case of bored generals feeling they should be doing something with all that hardware lying around. Russia and China seem to prefer maintaining strategic and tactical ambiguity about their nuclear weapons and their intentions, which seems a far more effective way of keeping potential opponents on edge. It seems Roosevelts ‘speak softly but carry a big stick’ seems to have been forgotten by US strategic planners.

      Reply
      1. vlade

        China’s testing the air defences, which is usually the reason why states do this stuff. I very much doubt that China would deploy nukes against Taiwan TBH.

        Re TU-142. 142 is actually a navy plane, originally meant for ASW. But it’s a derivation of Tu-95 and as such, from the testing-the-defences perspective as good as TU-95.

        I believe that in the passive mode you pretty much can’t tell them apart by their radar signature, so you need a visual, and your air-defence response must be pretty much the same. Which is not the case between B52 and E7, where the air signature is massively different (E7 being in effect 737).

        That said, there were incidents of TU-95 coming close to Scotland too.

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    4. David

      First, the major nuclear powers have the ability to obliterate each other from submarine-launched systems. Bombers are essentially irrelevant today as nuclear carriers, and owe their continued existence to special pleading, inter-service rivalry and the fact that, unlike submarines they are intended to be visible. Nobody would be insane enough to launch a surprise nuclear attack with manned bombers, and it’s unlikely that any country which is being approached in this way would be seriously concerned.

      Part of the reason for these deployments, as the article acknowledges, is theatrics: “sending messages” as the jargon has it, which may or may not be sensible and may or may not be properly received. But the main reasons are technical. On the one hand it’s practising deployments, checking logistics, training personnel etc. On the other, it’s about gathering intelligence on a putative enemy’s capabilities. This includes getting them to switch radars on and analysing the output, seeing how the interceptor system works (speed of response, how the AD system functions, potential new models of aircraft, air-to-ground communications etc). In the Cold War, both sides used to do such “tickling” operations frequently.

      These tactics need to be carefully calibrated, of course, and in most countries would be subject to severe political controls. Flights and interceptions take place in international airspace, and the rules of engagement for air defence aircraft in every country I’m aware of forbid them to open fire. It’s a recognised and understood rule, hallowed by generations of practice, that intruding aircraft turn away once intercepted. And in any case it would be astonishing if any of these aircraft were actually carrying nuclear weapons, unless they were dummies used for training.

      There are reasonable arguments against doing to much of this sort of thing, because it can ratchet up political tension unhelpfully. But it’s a persistent delusion of the Peace Studies lobby that such deployments could lead to the end of the world: by my count, they have already predicted at least 522 of the last zero nuclear holocausts.

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      1. Donald

        You only need one nuclear holocaust to have a bad day.

        Seriously, there have been several times where we have come close to blundering into war, either with deliberate saber rattling or via accident. It’s bizarre to see someone brushing this off as nothing to worry about. This is a self selection effect— people worry about nuclear holocausts that haven’t happened yet because most aren’t around after one does happen.

        As for planes not carrying nuclear weapons, even if you are right the problem is whether there is an accident and a plane is lost. Accidents do happen and an accident under these circumstances would lead to yet more saber rattling and possibly worse.

        You might be comfortable living in a world where nuclear powers “ tickle” each other. I am aware that these things go on. Unlike you, apparently, I see this as a type of insanity, something we accept because of that self selection effect that we use to comfort ourselves.

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        1. David

          As I said, I’m not sure this kind of behaviour is at all wise. A certain amount of it will always go on, but it seems to me that deliberately ratcheting up tension like this is a bad idea.
          The problem is that authors of articles like this tend to have a crude ideological agenda which they support by confusing two different things. One is the possibility of accidents or mistakes leading to political crises (the classic example is the shooting down of a KAL airliner which was way off course in 1983 when it was shot down by a Soviet fighter.) That’s a genuine worry, and behaviour of the kind alleged in the article makes accidents etc. more likely. But it’s not the same as the risk of nuclear war, still less of the kind of accidental nuclear war imagined by people who think that Dr Strangelove was a documentary. Outside Hollywood, it’s not the kind of thing you “blunder” into, and all nuclear powers invest huge resources in an attempt to make sure we don’t. Obviously, with a lot of nuclear weapons in the world there exists a non-zero possibility of accidents happening, and a risk that any conventional conflict could escalate to apocalyptic proportions. But that’s a very different issue from posturing with aircraft that are nuclear capable.

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          1. Donald

            I think you are too deep in the weeds here. It is a bad idea for nuclear superpowers to engage in these games. Even I would suspect that a B-52 is too slow and way too visible for launching a sneak attack, but obviously the Russians have to send interceptors (and similarly if they send a bomber). Accidents can happen. I am old enough to remember the Korean airliner incident and also when the US vessel Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner thinking it was a warplane launching an attack. The Russians once thought for a few minutes that we were launching a nuclear strike. You probably know the details off the top of your head more than I do. And the Cuban missile crisis came close to war.

            The point is that accidents can happen and one can’t predict what the consequences might be. I sometimes am bothered myself when political activists exaggerate some danger to make their argument, but I don’t think that it is unreasonable to be worried about these “ tickling” games.

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            1. Alex Cox

              Sam Cohen, the ‘father’ of the Neutron Bomb, told me Dr Strangelove was a documentary. He had been in the situation room, seen the big board, and he said the generals and the politicians really did act like that.

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              1. David

                Well, I think it’s well known that Reagan believed that the film was a documentary and was devastated to be told that the War Room didn’t exist.

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              2. MikeH

                Daniel Ellsberg, who is a genuine expert in these matters, comments in his recent book “The Doomsday Machine” (p. 64): “Harry Rowen and I had gone into D.C. from the Pentagon during the workday to see it [Dr. Strangelove] ‘for professional reasons.’ We came out into the afternoon sunlight, dazed by the light and the film, both agreeing that what we had just seen was, essentially, a documentary.” This is in the context of there being no way to recall bombers once they have received the Go code.

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            2. Thomas P

              Go further back and you have an incident where USA dropped practice depth charges on a Soviet nuclear submarine to force it to the surface, which got very close to retaliating with a nuclear torpedo since they weren’t sure that it wasn’t a real attack. One Ryssian on the submarine managed to convince the others to hold.

              Then there was an incident where US Strategic command accidentally inserted a magnetic tape of a simulated Soviet nuclar attack in their live system, and we were saved because the commander had cool enough nerves to check the raw data, whch showed no attack.

              It’s a miracle we are not glowing in the dark by now. There is just so much that can go wrong.

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    5. upstater

      How much of this would be occurring if NATO had stuck with the promise by Secretary of State James Baker’s assurance to Gorbachev that NATO would not expand “not one inch eastward”?

      My mom is Lithuanian, and the visceral hatred of Russians by Balts makes TDS look normal by comparison. Yet the Poles took one third of the county during the first Republic and long dominated them before Tsarist control. Not to mention the friendly German neighbors of the Swedes.

      Reply
  2. upstater

    Isn’t the point of Klare’s article that these continual provocations are inherently risky?

    Recall the EP3 incident in 2001 near Hainan Island… What do you suppose our fearless leaders may do in something similar happened today with 1/44th of the US strategic bomber fleet?

    Reply
    1. upstater

      This was intended as a reply to David October 12, 2020 at 7:53 am

      Adding to my comment, I don’t seem to recall Russian of Chinese aircraft flying loops in the Gulf of Mexico or appearing regularly up and down the East and West coasts of the US.

      Reply
      1. David

        Soviet (and now Russian) bombers did the same thing in the Cold War to test NATO defences in Europe, especially over the North Sea and around the coasts of the UK. It still goes on, though at a lower level. It wasn’t done against the US partly because of range issues, and partly because the US simply would not have been a target for manned bombers: the conflict was expected to be in Europe, and indeed even today that’s likely to be the flashpoint for any confrontation.

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  3. Bob

    Bombing doesn’t work.

    As examples –

    Cambodia 2.7 million tons = Pol Pot
    Vietnam 7 million tons = communist dictatorship
    Korea 0.6 million tons = Sung dynasty
    Laos 2 million tons = holes in the jungle
    Germany 0.6 million tons = war production actually increased
    Iraq 0.08 million tons = Insurgency continues to this day

    The fact is that bombing of and by itself doesn’t achieve goals..

    Reply
      1. David

        It can indeed, but one nuclear weapon is strategically useless, which is why, as I said above, only a lunatic would launch an attack that way. Straining my imagination, I could imagine perhaps that North Korea might launch a single nuke against Seoul, with some hopes of doing irreparable damage to South Korea. (Even then, the military HQ – and, I strongly suspect, the continuity of government apparatus – is down in Pusan, so you’d need at least two.)

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        1. Thomas P

          I think the most likely scenario for a single nuke today would be USA or Israel bombing an Iranian bunker they thought was used to make nuclear weapons and they decided was too deep for conventional weapons. Possibly against a suspected bioweapons facility, in order to be sure the area is sterilized and you don’t release deadly bugs. The variable yield US bombs are designed to be used, not as a strategic deterrent.

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  4. JTMcPhee

    We’ve come close to nuclear war by idiocy and inadvertence a number of times. This article says 9 times, https://www.businessinsider.com/when-nuclear-war-almost-happened-2018-4?op=1#october-5-1960-the-moon-is-mistaken-for-missiles-1, other counts range from 5 to 15.

    Let’s recall (in line with Rapture Watch) that there’s a lot of Rapturist fundamentalist Xtians who have (like pedophiles have done in Xtian churches) wormed their way to the apex of strategic doctrine setting, in the military and NGOs and the Executive. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-theology-of-armageddo_b_964061

    And let’s remember that a key element of the Gospel of Mutual Assured Destruction as preached by RAND Is that the national leadership controlling the weapons must actually be insane — not just appear to be insane, but be certifiable, if “the other side” is to be deterred by one’s weapons. MAD and the current NDS embody this functional reality. This has created the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone, as described here: https://theowp.org/reports/the-diminishing-reassurance-of-mutually-assured-destruction/

    And the men, and of course women, who as one of the missile commanders once said to an interviewer from I think “60 Minutes,” said when asked whether he planned to make a career of the Air Force holding the keys to nuclear destruction, “I could never have this kind of responsibility in civilian life.” There folks have been found to maybe be neither honest nor competent: https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a12003/the-nuke-silo-cheating-scandal-explained-16388244/

    It’s always seemed to me that games theorists have a wonderful blind spot regarding nuclear doctrine — like WOPR concluded in “War Games,” the only way to win a negative-sum game is not to play.

    But the RANdians have always been looking for a way to achieve first-strike ability, and their friendly generals and enough legislators and people in the executive branch to make a difference also are still playing as if it’s a zero-sum game.

    I wonder if it will get to the point where kids (for this and a lot of other reasons of course) will say, not “WHEN I grow up,” but as one of my young friends said to me in about 1958, “IF i grow up…”

    The Doomsday Clock as set by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is closer to midnight than it has been since its inception: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kionasmith/2020/05/31/73-years-after-its-debut-the-doomsday-clock-is-100-seconds-from-midnight/#1c0efe5a2888

    Effing stupid humans…

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  5. ewmayer

    I LOLed at this bit of blinkered partisanship on the part of the author:

    At a more hopeful time, President Barack Obama sought to downsize this country’s nuclear arsenal and prevent the use of such weapons for anything beyond deterrence (although his administration also commenced an expensive “modernization” of that arsenal). In his widely applauded Nobel Peace Prize speech of April 5, 2009, Obama swore to “put an end to Cold War thinking” and “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.” Unfortunately, Donald Trump has sought to move the dial in the opposite direction, including increasing the use of nukes as coercive instruments.

    Candidate Obama also famously mocked Mitt Romney for Russophobia and indeedy, there was very little Cold War thinking during the Obama administration. How dare that nasty Trump reverse those wonderful Obamian policies of peace and rapprochement with our erstwhile WW2 allies?

    From the “upgrades” article, first the promise of hope and change:

    In 2009, the first year of his presidency, Obama laid down what he called a “comprehensive agenda” to get to a nuclear-free world. And on a visit to Japan that same year, he said he hoped to visit Hiroshima while in office.

    OK, O kept the latter part of the promise – the easy, self-flattering adroing-crowds one. The first, not so much:

    …a president who has opposed nuclear weapons all his life has wound up asking Congress to fund a new class of ballistic missile submarine, a new stealth bomber, upgrades to the current stock of nuclear weapons, a new cruise missile and billions of dollars of other programs.

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