Peruse, if you will, this sabre-rattling pile of poop. Coming on the heels of recent articles which warn that the west sees a nuclear war as both winnable and possible, even probable, and the conviction that a new western strategy is the attempt to initiate a Kremlin palace coup by Russian nationalist hardliners fed up with Putin’s squishiness because he will not respond more aggressively to NATO provocations on Russia’s doorstep, it’s hard not to conclude that the west has lost its mind. If the fear of a planet-devastating nuclear war – in which the two major world nuclear powers pull out all the stops in an unrestricted attempt to annihilate one another – no longer holds our behaviors in check…what’s scarier than that?
We seriously need to persuade our leaders, in the strongest terms, that they cannot talk smack like that.
Do the leaders of the free world need a refresher course in nuclear explosions? Hiroshima 1945, before and after what was, at the time, the greatest destructive force in the world fell upon it. The bomb which flattened Hiroshima had a yield of 15 kilotons, or 15 thousand tons of TNT. Modern Russian ICBM’s typically carry MIRV warheads, Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles, of up to 250 kilotons yield; more than 16 times the destructive power – each – of the Hiroshima bomb. A MIRV carrier releases its warheads individually, post-boost-phase, and they reenter the atmosphere independently and not necessarily proceeding to the same target. Their accuracy is a few hundred feet CEP (Circular Error Probability); in the case of the RS 24 Yars, about 150 feet. Increased accuracy means less necessity for huge warheads, so more can be carried. At about the same time, the missile releases decoys, to make it more difficult to establish which are the real warheads. Finally, the payload accelerates to 15,000 mph for the sprint to the target. Anyone who tells you the missile shield can take care of a target traveling at 15,000 mph in any profile except coming directly at the missile shield’s launcher could probably sell you a bridge, if you believe them. The crossing rate is just too high.
Alternatively, the Topol M can carry a single 800 kiloton warhead – more than 53 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.
But there’s US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, looking quite a bit like an earless bloodhound, strutting and talking tough.
“Despite the progress we’ve made together since the end of the Cold War, Russia has in recent years appeared intent to erode the principled international order that has served us, our friends and allies, the international community, and Russia itself so well for so long…We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We do not seek to make Russia an enemy. But make no mistake, we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us.”
It might seem funny to you to hear a senior government official from the country that fabricated a case for war so it could destroy its old enemy, Saddam Hussein, and lay waste to his country and people, prattling on about ‘the rules-based international order’, just as if the United States recognizes any limitations on its application of raw power, anywhere on the globe, in its own interests. It’s quite true that whenever the USA wants to start a war with someone, it first makes out a case that this is a situation in which it must act. And even its critics would have to acknowledge that it is damned good at this sort of fakery, and has come a long way since one of its premiere PR firms – Hill & Knowlton – coached the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States through her performance as a make-believe Kuwaiti nurse devastated by Saddam’s forces’ make-believe plundering of a Kuwaiti hospital, something which did not happen. It did, however, strike precisely the right responsive chord in public anger and disgust to kick off Gulf War I. Both wars against Iraq got off the ground on entirely fabricated scenarios calculated to get the rubes all in a lather to do the right thing. To hear a self-righteous assrocket like Ashton Carter maunder on about the rules-based international order, considering the United States encouraged the military campaign by the Ukrainian government to kill its own citizens in a blatant violation of the very core principles of the imaginary rules-based international order…why, it’s a little like listening to Imelda Marcos teaching a seminar on how to take care of your shoes so they’ll last a long time and you won’t have to buy more. I have to say, it just… it makes me mad.
What has really brought us to this point in the history of the Big Blue Marble is that despite the progress we’ve made together since the end of the Cold War, the indispensable and exceptional nation has in recent years tried by various means to overthrow the government of Russia, without success. It has tried incentivizing and supporting opposition movements, and got most of its NGO’s kicked out of the country for its pains. It has tried sexual politics, hoping to mobilize the world’s homosexuals against ‘Putin’s draconian anti-gay laws’, only to have the effort fall flat. It has tried open economic warfare, which worked just long enough for President Obama to take credit for it, then Russian counter-sanctions made European businesses wish they had never heard of President Obama. Shortly after that, Russia began to muscle in on US agricultural markets; a startlingly lifelike performance for a dying country. It looks like everything that has been tried in the effort to send Russia down for a dirtnap has failed. What’s left? They’re running out of war-alternative regime-change efforts.
And what has made Washington suddenly so cocky with the nuclear stick? Could it be that its European-based missile defense system has just gone live? After all Obama’s waffling, after his backing away from the missile defense the hawks wanted, in the winding-down days of his presidency he re-committed to it, and the site in Romania has started up, with great fanfare. Washington continues to insist, tongue in cheek, that the system is not and cannot be targeted against Russia’s nuclear deterrent, but for what other purpose could it be there? The rogue-missiles-from-Iran canard is pretty much played out. It seems pretty clear that Washington figures its interceptors (the Standard series SM3) give it a potential first-strike capability, which would – in theory – see Washington’s unalerted launch taking out most of Russia’s ICBM’s in their silos, and the forward-based interceptors taking out the few missiles that avoided Washington’s hammer-blow. If they don’t believe that, why the sudden nuclear-weapons nose-thumbing?
If they do believe that, it’s a big mistake. First of all, where the USA relies on a nuclear triad deterrent – land-based, air-deployable and seaborne nuclear missiles – Russia adds a fourth leg; mobile Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL) vehicles which have a demonstrated off-road capability, so that they could be most anywhere. The USA could not be sure of hitting all Russia’s land-based missiles before launch. Then there is the sea-based component, in SSBN’s, ballistic-missile submarines. The BOREI Class carries the Bulava missile. Each of the 20 missiles can carry up to 10 MIRV warheads of 150 kilotons yield. The USA is already worried that it is falling behind Russia and China in submarine capability. Finally, Russia has the ‘dead hand’ system, which is an automatic program that will launch all undestroyed fixed-site missiles even if everyone in Russia is dead.
Could the interceptors be sure of getting all the landbased missiles a first strike did not take out? Well, how sure do you want to be? The interceptor has a range of about 100 miles, and an altitude capability of around 65,000 feet. That’s enough to catch a ballistic missile in the boost phase, before the warheads separate. Once the reentry vehicles accelerate to their terminal velocity of 15,000 mph, the SM3 has a speed disadvantage of about 4000 mph. But the reentry warheads would be much too far away by that point anyway, and it would be the job of interceptors protecting US cities to stop them. Could they do it? I’d suggest that anyone who is 100% confident plans to be somewhere else when it happens.
This is an existential battle for Russia. No amount of conciliatory gestures will buy it peace, and the United States is determined to push it off the edge of the world. With NATO surrounding it, even if it disbanded its military and plowed all its croplands into flowerbeds, the west would still pretend to see it as a threat, and would foment internal discord until it broke apart. Russia’s leaders know this. Its people know this. Strutting up and down the border and waving the NATO flag is not going to make Russia get scared about ‘consequences’, and kneel in the dirt. NATO’s fundamental problem is that it understands neither the Russian character or the true circumstances in the country, preferring to rely on rosy estimates presented by its think tanks.
The biggest ‘consequence’ of this dick-waving and posturing is that we are back where we were in 1947.