Why the New Arms Race?

I originally wrote this as a preface to Preface to Hypersonic Strategies, Part 6. Then I thought the better of it. The current readership prefers the concrete and technical to soft ice-cream humanist. I just thought again. With the current distractions of domestic politics, only the most widely ranging readers will bother with Intel9.  So now’s the time.

It began,  “Forthcoming Part 6 has a decidedly Strangelovian air, so this is both a disclaimer and a warning.” It continues:

The resumption of the arms race is a pox on humanity. Is it due to particular individuals, or is it a case of historical inevitability? There is a natural tendency to simplify by concentration of blame, producing theories that tend to be wrongly simple and simply wrong.

Bringing all the factors together permits even those whose world views tend towards simplicity the opportunity to consider history as an infernal machine of reactions, rebounds, and ricochets, and possibly hybridize their views. The menu items:

  • Historical inevitability.
  • Economic protectionism.
  • Historical causes/grudges
  • Cultural differences.
  • Personalities.
  • Domestic politics of states involved in this conflict.
  • Accidents of history.
  • Hidden motives.

Any particular flowchart  of genesis could be rejected, just from disagreement  about proportions of factors, not the factors themselves. Skipping the proportions, we may find a common core. It begins with the fall of the Soviet Union.

In the immediate aftermath, Russia under Yeltsin, and “early Putin”, looked to the West for inspiration, wanted to become part of the West, and aspired to join NATO.  Two rejections ensued:

  • Rather than accept Russia as a NATO member or associate, NATO expanded eastward, as a “purely defensive alliance” against only one possible adversary, Russia.
  • The EEC, and later EU refused to open their markets to Russia.

Historical inevitability,  fear driven reaction to the Iron Curtain, lays a big claim to the above. Economic protectionism ratified these fears. Europeans feared cheap Russian labor and the absence of business law.

European memories of the Iron Curtain, an historical cause, were fresh.  Among Russians, there was a personal sense of rejection, which may be partly responsible for a regression to the past, but with a twist. Instead of ideology, the new-old Russia is feared by  the West in the same way and for the same reasons described by Joseph Conrad before the Bolsheviks; see Trump-Putin Summit; An Executive Summary; The Oldest Russia Analyst. From his 1905 essay, Autocracy and War:

...From the very first ghastly dawn of her existence as a state, she had to breathe the atmosphere of despotism, she found nothing but the arbitrary will of an obscure Autocrat at the beginning and end of her organization. Hence arises her impenetrability to whatever is true in Western thought. Western thought when it crosses her frontier falls under the spell of her Autocracy and becomes a noxious parody of itself. Hence the contradictions, the riddles, of her national life which are looked upon with such curiosity by the rest of the world. The curse had entered her very soul; Autocracy and nothing else  in the world has moulded her institutions, and with the poison of slavery drugged the national temperament into the apathy of a hopeless fatalism...

Conrad describes cultural differences, illuminated by visceral fear, inspired by geography and history. It would be hard to overstate Polish fear of Russia, which is why Poland has vigorously promoted U.S. military presence.

Personalities and domestic politics combined in Russia to devise a new/old conception of the State to fill the vacuum. Many observed that Russians seemed incredibly unpatriotic, leaving the world’s longest land border crucially vulnerable.  Putin’s conception of the new state was Slavic nationalism with a weakly authoritarian core, and a foreign policy with notes of 1914. Contrary to those who run the “most powerful man in the world” contest, Putin’s autocracy is  limited. With a power base of Slavic nationalism, he can’t back up. Hence, frozen conflict Ukraine.

The Russians hoped to join the West; we rejected them for the reasons of Conrad and protectionism, so they went back to the only ways they knew, intimidation, interventions, subversion, deception,  and poisons. The old ways. Could we have pulled Russia into the future? Is the monster in part our careless creation?

This is a description of fertile ground for an arms race, but missing a catalyst. This came in the form of rogue state nuclear ambitions, the given reason for withdrawal of the U.S. from the ABM treaty in 2002. In response to choice of Poland to site an ABM radar complex, Russia offered a technically better one, rejected for the reasons best described by Conrad.

Although hypersonic missiles present many opportunities for asymmetric warfare, Russia’s conclusion that the U.S. ABM system is intended to negate  her strategic deterrent is a major driver. It was strengthened by on-off development of the Multiple Kill Vehicle, MKV,  proposed to close the gap between the cost per shot of ICBMs and defense against them. It is obscured by the irritations of every-day, of Russia’s tactics seeking every marginal advantage, verging on low intensity warfare. But while Putin may be the most important parent of  Russia’s rebirth-via-return to the past,  the child has the genes of many.

Does this dissection of the infernal machine of recent history suggest an opportunity to reverse it? Possibly, but one obstacle has nothing to do with the U.S. In Russia, many more things are hidden than proclaimed, so a hidden motive is possible. The hypothesis:

  • Russia fears China much more than the U.S.
  • Putin’s Russia must be galvanized by tension, to become a modern Sparta.
  • Elevation of tensions with China is dangerous; the U.S. becomes the  safe substitute.
  • Confounding simplicity, this could be part of a mix.

In an open society, such schemes do not get very far in silence. But this is Joseph Conrad’s Russia.










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