The Cold War Returneth

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Defense Intelligence Agency

The Pentagon warned of the Soviet missile threat 30 years ago in its glossy "Soviet Military Power" annual reports.

The Russians booted a U.S. diplomat from their country Tuesday, contending he was a CIA spy. The cable network FX has a hit on its hands with The Americans, a weekly show that focuses on a Soviet couple working for the KGB in Washington during the Reagan Administration.

While these superpower flashbacks may have the comfort of an old coat, there’s a contemporary downside to it, as well. It seems the demise of the nuclear-tipped superpower rivalry was good while it lasted. Heck, there are soldiers serving in the U.S. Army who have never known the reliability of planning for war in the Fulda Gap.

But is its end a fiction?

You bet, according to a pair of defense experts who spoke last Friday in Washington. One is wrapping up his career as a professor at the Army War College, and the other is a former senior Pentagon official now affiliated with the hawkish National Institute for Public Policy.

Now you do have to keep what they say in perspective: their talk was sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association, which is what the military-industrial complex has printed on its official stationery. The Air Force Association and the Reserve Officers Association were also sponsors.

You can glean the tone of these regular gatherings by checking out the topics of some recent and upcoming talks:

— Sustaining the Nuclear Enterprise

— China’s Challenge: Nuclear and Missile Defense Perspectives

— Future of USAF Nuclear Deterrent Forces

— The Enduring Requirements of US Strategic Security: Nuclear Deterrence, Arms Control, Defense Policy and Missile Defense

— Missile Defense, Nuclear Deterrence, Arms Control, Prompt Global Strike and the Search for Strategic Stability in a Constrained Budget Environment

— The Nuclear Infrastructure Challenge and Deterrence Implications

— Nuclear Triad, Arms Control, Deterrence and America’s Security

So, yea, admittedly there’s a bit of a Johnny-One-Nuke thing going on. And yes, it would be nice if there were a bit more balance to the session. And if it hadn’t been held in the Capitol Hill Club, a private GOP social club on Capitol Hill.

But just because they may be driven by pecuniary and partisan motives…doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Here are some pertinent excerpts from the remarks of Stephen Blank, soon-to-retire professor of national security affairs at the Army War College, and Mark Schneider, a senior analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy:

Schneider: Russia is increasingly anti-democratic and hostile to the United States. Xenophobia is widespread in Russia. The Kremlin is currently encouraging nationalism and militarizing the country. It constantly attacks the West. And a sizable number of the Russian population see neighboring countries as part of the Russian zone of influence. Now, this is not me speaking; this is taken from a recent statement by Alexei Kudrin, who, until September 2011, was the finance minister of Russia and who has just been publicly offered a Cabinet position by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.

Blank: We are currently witnessing a 33 trillion ruble overall rearmament of the Russian military by 2020. That’s about $800 billion, depending on the exchange rate. Now there’s no doubt that between 1990 and 2008 essentially there was a procurement holiday, for all intents and purposes, in the Russian military. The military was busted. They need to recapitalize the military…But to the extent that they are building this kind of military, it is clearly intended to take on, on the one hand, the U.S. and NATO, and secondly, the enemy that they will never speak about in public but which does preoccupy a lot of military thinking, namely China.

Schneider: There are massive differences in the infrastructure for nuclear weapons production and in missile production. In both cases, you have very active Russian programs underway and virtually minimal programs in the United States. One of the key differences is this, and I was able to get this declassified several years ago. The Russian nuclear weapons complex is capable of producing at least 2,000 nuclear weapons a year, and that’s from a Russian source. And they have active production programs in both ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles], SLBMs [submarine-launched ballistic missiles].

Blank: Now if you look at the map, the Russian Far East, which directly adjoins China, is what we call an economy-of-force theater. It is a theater that can only survive by sustaining itself. If a war broke out between Russia and China — and now and then Russian military and political officials actually allude to the possibility of a Chinese threat — probably within a day the Chinese could take out the Trans- Siberian Railway and essentially isolate the area from the rest of continental Russia. Therefore, the only recourse that the Russian military has in a contingency with China is nuclear.

Schneider: What’s the Administration’s reaction to this unprecedented, in the post-Cold War period, enhancement of Russian nuclear capabilities? Basically, it’s more nuclear reductions. We’re making nuclear reductions, according to the information released by the State Department, much faster than is necessary to comply with the New START treaty. We are pursuing minimum modernization programs, and we’re going to do more arms control.

Blank: Fundamentally, this is a government that has what the German philosopher Carl Schmitt called a presupposition of conflict. It sees itself as threatened on all sides. I have, in a study that’s coming out…a threat assessment that essentially NATO and the U.S. are advancing, are creating threats to strategic stability — that’s missile defenses — and that the likelihood of war in an around Russia’s frontiers is growing. And they’ve been saying those kind of things for about five or six years now. It’s not just a new wrinkle in Russian thinking.

Schneider: They’ve designed new types of nuclear weapons in post-Cold War. They’re probably doing hydronuclear testing as part of the development program. So all these things are underway, and there are enormous differences. On our side, we will soon have zero experienced nuclear weapons designers in our complex. The Russians have experienced nuclear weapons designers that have actually done small-yield testing, in all probability. They are designing, producing new types of ICBMs.

Blank: Further, Putin said, at the same time we see methodical attempts to undermine the strategic balance in various ways and forms — missile defense. The United States has essentially launched now the second phase in its global missile defense system. There are attempts to sound out possibilities for expanding NATO further eastward. That tells me that they have bought an intelligence assessment that doesn’t exist, that is basically fabricated. There is nobody in this town or in Brussels talking about expanding NATO. It’s not going to happen anytime soon. Yet Russian intelligence and the government obviously believe this. And that’s already a sign of something dangerous.

Schneider: We have not had an ICBM or SLBM design team operational since about 1990. That has an enormous potential asymmetrical impact. When we ever get around to designing a new missile — and right now the earliest date for that is 2042 IOC [initial operational capability] — we’re going to face unprecedented problems because we will have no one — maybe a few people, you know, as consultants, elderly consultants, but — nobody in terms of, you know, experience — there’s no experienced ICBM designer, SLBM designer in the United States with any sort of recent design experience of any significance.

Blank: We have a system in Russia where the intelligence apparatus is out of control. And we know from Russian history innumerable times where these guys deliberately inflate the threat. And Putin has said if the military says it’s a threat, it’s a threat. Now, in this country, that kind of stuff wouldn’t be allowed for a minute…

Thank God.