NATO Missile Shield Is Practically Guaranteeing a Russian Preemptive Strike

"Every General Staff relies on the fact that if the enemy's intentions are unclear they should be interpreted as aggressive (otherwise, they could be late to respond)"

Thu, May 19, 2016 | 11924 Comments
The use of Iskanders would not necessarily compel escalation to nuclear warfare
Originally appeared at . Translated by Julia Rakhmetova and Rhod Mackenzie

The author is a famous Ukrainian former political analyst and diplomat forced to migrate to Russia following the Maidan coup. He is a columnist for the International Information Agency “Rossyia Segodnya”


The US activated its first 24 missile defense stations on May 12th at the Romanian air base of Deveselu as part of its missile defense shield in Europe, and began the construction of the second element on May 13th at the Polish air base of Redzikowo. 

Later, President Vladimir Putin stated at a meeting on  mobilization readiness that the US would not be able to deceive Russia by claiming its weapons system is purely defensive, and that in fact this was about relocating part of the US nuclear capacity to the countries Eastern Europe. The President promised that Russia would respond adequately to new threats to its security.

Right after Vladimir Putin’s statement, the US and NATO went into hysterics over the so-called inappropriate  response of Russia to their  ‘harmless’ actions. 

Are the new American bases so harmful?

Adequate and non-adequate response

Many years’ practice shows that the President of Russia takes his time when it comes to making tough statements, and this one was unprecedentedly tough. Speaking of the necessity to ‘reduce threats to the security of the Russian Federation’, Putin dropped the strongest possible hint that the governments of Eastern European states have turned their countries into potential targets for Russian strikes by allowing their territories to harbor the American Missile Defense Shield. 

We should note that on May 11th, the day before the opening of the Romanian base, the MFA of Russia also made a statement. The director of the Board for the Nonproliferation and Control of Arms, Mikhail Ulyanov characterized the US actions as violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)  of 1987.

Fact-checking

What is Russia worried about, and why did Moscow’s reference to ‘reducing threats’ provoke  NATO hysterics?

The ground-based complexes of the Aegis Combat System, which are the basis of the American National Missile Defense in Europe, are a double threat to Russia. After concluding the Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, the US and Russia reduced their nuclear weapons from several dozen thousands on both sides to 6,000-7,000 for each country. Officially, Russia today has 7,300 nuclear warheads. However, each weapon must be transported to the target. At the moment, the Russian Armed Forces possess 526 deployed nuclear delivery vehicles equipped with 1,735 weapons. Taking into consideration the reserve units, the total number of vehicles could be 877, with up to 3,200 weapons. 

Other vehicles carrying half the deployed nuclear weapons are strategic aircraft and nuclear submarines. However, if a surprise strike is attempted, not every plane would have time to take off, not all those would manage to reach the missile launching area, and not every submarine would be able to reach the area of combat. And the US Navy would try hard to destroy those already there, long before the beginning of combat. 

Today Russia has only ten submarine ballistic missile carriers, and it wouldn’t be difficult for the US to neutralize them.

What the American Missile Defense System is aiming at 

Only ground launchers of intercontinental ballistic missiles ensure the destruction of  US territory, and it is these that the American Missile Defense System is aimed at. Its positioning at the Russian borders should allow interception of intercontinental carriers at the moment when they are most vulnerable – in the boost phase of flight. 

So far, Russia has about 300 intercontinental nuclear weapon-launching vehicles. Surely, these 24 antiballistic missiles in Romania are not enough to save the US from a revenge strike. But the US isn’t going to limit itself to only one interceptor missiles base. Besides, after the system is ramped up, it’s easy to increase the number of missile launchers.

We paid attention to the Russian MFA’s statement on the violation of the INF. The point is that the Aegis Combat System is universal and capable of controlling the launch both of antiballistic missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles.   The Tomahawks (together with the Pershings which have been removed from the inventory) were deployed in the 1980’s in  Western Europe, their flying time to targets in the then European part of the USSR (Ukraine, Belorussia, the Baltic States and Russia up to the Urals) was 5-8 minutes. It’s easy to calculate that the flying time would be reduced with Tomahawks in Romania and Poland (1,000-1,500 km closer).

Under these circumstances, there is no time evaluate the situation and the intention.  Anything that can be characterized as a threat of nuclear attack against Russia should cause intercontinental missiles to be launched immediately. Otherwise, there is a high chance that they would be destroyed at their sites. 

The limited (after the reduction according to the INF) amount of carriers and warheads leave no hope that there will be enough missiles for an adequate response after any disarming strike. 

This increases the risk of nuclear confrontation up to the level of the 1980’s, when it was the highest in the history of USSR - US relations, except for the two critical weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis, from October 15th  to 28th, 1962. (That crisis, by the way, was provoked by the deployment of American medium-range ballistic missiles Jupiter in Turkey.)

Tension is growing

The current international situation is much more explosive. The US still doesn’t want to accept the fact that its hegemony is over, and in order to save it they stake everything on military strength. The conflicts they heat up could result in a direct confrontation with Russia, with both sides using their armed forces to enforce diplomatic efforts. It’s the demonstrated readiness of Russia to cover Syria with a Missile Defense System umbrella that stopped the invasion planned by the West, according to the Libyan scenario. It’s no  secret that the military advisors of the US and Russia consult over Kiev and the Donbass in the civil war in the Ukraine. The attacks on Russian strike aircraft in Syria were made by Turkey – a member of NATO, after which Ankara threatened a land invasion into Syria for two months, inevitably resulting in the confrontation between the Russian and Turkish air forces. 

Generally speaking, the world is living in what is probably a growing military threat. Meanwhile, when the possibility of creating a launch area for the American Missile Defense System in Europe was still being discussed, the Russian military stated that the only reliable way to prevent the threat was a preventive strike by Iskander systems if political leaders agree that military actions are inevitable. 

The destruction of the Missile Defense System by conventionally armed precision weapons is not a mandatory cause for a nuclear war with the US (although it would certainly result in military confrontation from the targeted countries).  But the approach of dozens of potential warhead carriers with minimum flying time to the Russian borders can be considered by Moscow as a threat to the existence of the Russian state itself. In this case, Russia’s current military doctrine provides for the first use of nuclear weapons.

It is said that the doctrine applies to aggression against Russia. However, the definition of aggression and existential threat to the state are currently rather elastic.  Over the last couple of decades we have seen so many states almost annihilated without declaring war, that it’s practically impossible to identify the fine line separating war from the peace. Even experts are left wondering how to identify the current state of international relations (either it’s a prewar situation, or the Third World War has been going for a long time, or the Fourth one has started). 

Under these circumstances, the closer  the front lines of opposing strategic forces, the less time is left for political leaders to make a decision, and the danger of  an automatic deployment of  forces is that much higher than when the military simply carry out pre-established ‘just in case’ instructions. Every General Staff relies on the fact that if the enemy's intentions are unclear they should be interpreted as aggressive (otherwise, they could be late to respond). That leaves the military alone in a vicious spiral of inevitable decisions. 

That’s why the US and NATO went into hysterics in response to Putin’s statement. They thought they would force him to retreat by placing him before an implicit but undeniable military threat.

He accepted their proposal to raise the stakes to the max, and now it’s Washington that has to decide whether it’s worth risking uncontrolled nuclear war or retreating in front of the whole world.