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Panel: Moves from Putin Administration Ending ‘Strategic Holiday ‘ for U.S., NATO

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.

“Thanks to Vladimir Putin, it looks like the strategic holiday is over” for the United States and NATO when it comes to examining the role that non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe will play in the alliance, a leading expert on Russia’s foreign and military policy said Friday.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that discussions of those weapons “seemed to lose their urgency and their relevance” when the Soviet Union collapsed, and especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001.

When the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty early in George W. Bush’s administration, “the message was: the Cold War is over”—but thousands of nuclear weapons remained in Russian, American, British and French arsenals.

Noting the increased Russian violations of air space and sea space, and NATO’s moving forces forward into the Baltic nations, Kuchins said the need for these discussions have a new immediacy. But he added the United States and Russia “have forgotten how . . . to have useful conversations” about conventional and nuclear arms control; have abandoned nuclear site inspections; and do not revisit agreements—such as “incidents at sea” and “dangerous military activities”—to build confidence between Moscow and the West.

Both the United States and Russia “need to take steps to avoid miscalculation” and examine their doctrines on use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, said Steven Pifer, director of the arms control and non-proliferation initiative at the Brookings Institution, when discussing two meetings over the past year on those issues. The Navy sponsored meetings in Vienna and Washington that primarily involved Russian and United States experts.

He said the NATO view of those weapons is their value in deterring aggression and assuring allies of the U.S. commitment to the alliance. The Russian view is not as clear. “What is the threshold for military use of nuclear weapons?” He said the Russians could also be viewing the weapons as an offset to NATO’s precision weapons and its better trained and equipped conventional forces.

“Why does Mr. Putin talk about nuclear weapons so much?” Pifer answered his own question by citing Putin’s insistence that Russia remains a superpower that can escalate conflicts to a nuclear confrontation. There also could be some advantage in looking “a little crazy” to keep adversaries at bay. Putin could view these weapons as useful in coercing others and not simply as deterrents.

Guy Roberts, former deputy assistant secretary-general for weapons of mass destruction policy at NATO, said that discussions between the alliance and Russia have stopped because of Moscow’s seizure of Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“I don’t see [discussions reopening] in the near future,” he said—a far cry from 10 years ago when studies of how Russia could join NATO were being seriously examined.

Kuchins added that because nuclear issues have been off the agenda for so long the United States needs to train a next generation of experts. The situation “is quite a bit worse on the Russian side.”

  • sferrin

    “The 80’s called and they want their Cold War back. Hurr, durr, hurr hurr. . .” -Barack Obama.

  • Secundius

    “Lilliputin’s” War…

  • Curtis Conway

    Vladimir Putin exemplifies the mindset of an Imperialist Russia. Détente is out, and competition is in. The lesson that Russia has no chance to win an extended economic contest is lost on this man, and another equation is being exercised. If the US administration does not get with the program pretty quick, one can begin to muse about what the tripwires for action are on Russia’s part, and we are not ready.

    Vladimir Putin is exercising his Strategic Rocket Forces monthly as he burns up his older and less reliable equipment, and replaces those old rockets with something much more accurate and deadly, while the US continues to argue over ‘if we should upgrade’, if so ‘what will we upgrade’, and how many? Every day the decision is forestalled it cost more. If the current administration has its way, we will not do anything.

    “Noting the increased Russian violations of air space and sea space, and NATO’s moving forces forward into the Baltic nations….”

    This is a foreshadowing of what is to come. Putin needs his crews to ‘have been there and done that’ before ‘they do it for real’. China and Russia are double teaming us in the Pacific/Arctic. With the reduced US force levels we can no longer handle two adversaries in two theaters. Talking about planning to fail! Plan for the worse and hope for the best. This administration is at worse planning to fail, and at best, make it a fairer fight for our adversaries. Who’s side is the US government on these days?

    “Kuchins added that because nuclear issues have been off the agenda for so long the United States needs to train a next generation of experts.”

    I need this article to tell me this? We have seen nuclear talks with Russia, by inexperienced US negotiators, GIVE Russia (in effect) permission to place Tactical Nuclear Missiles in Kaliningrad after telling Poland that we cancelled their Ballistic Missile Defense installation, because the US negotiators had no idea what they were doing. Now Aegis Ashore cannot be built in Poland fast enough, while the Russians have been turning Kaliningrad into an armed camp.

    The new long range bomber better be nuclear capable, and all nuc quals all forces had better get up to speed ASAP.

    • H. H. GAFFNEY

      There is no evidence that the Iskander missiles supposedly deployed in Kaliningrad (or elsewhere) have nuclear warheads. My own research found no such evidence; instead, I got statements by Russian officers that, “We don’t need nuclear warheads since these missiles are very accurate.” In short, they have given up dual-capability (as the U.S. was doing in the mid-70s) since nuclear warheads (and don’t give me that mini-nuke stuff) destroy far more than any simple military target — the Russian military knows they wouldn’t get permission for nukes to be released.

      • Curtis Conway

        I never said there were nuclear warheads in them. I said they were nuclear capable, and it must be noted that the Russians asked the question before, got a response, before they moved the missiles. ‘Better safe than sorry’ is definitely not a concept that this administration understands. One can stare at five or six major aviation combatants (CVN/LHA/LHD) in US ports at the same time to understand that.

        • H. H. GAFFNEY

          What on earth are you saying? That Russia is going to fire an ICBM at Norfolk or San Diego simply to take out a bunch of U.S. ships? That sounds insane. And the poke at the Administration is simply dumb — that’s partisan politics at its worst when we’ve got some serious problems out there.

          • Curtis Conway

            What I’m saying is . . . Iskander Tactical Missiles can be equipped with a small tactical nuclear warhead. As unlikely as that seems to most analyst, it is a possibility. If you run the permutations of what will follow after the employment of that weapon . . . a nuke on Norfolk, or San Diego with 4-6 major aviation assets in port is not a hard decision for an adversary who feels his back is against the way. Got to live in the real world, not the imaginary Never-Never Land the 495 Beltway crowd is trying to perpetuate today. The recent story of many intell analyst analysis being modified to the druthers of the administration is a case in point. You can get away with ignoring the problem for a while . . . then its knocking on your door step. A whole new set of rules (of which the current administration cannot even fathom) comes with that territory.

      • Curtis Conway

        ‘Plan for the worse and hope for the best’ is the rule. NOT ignore the worse because it will never happen! HiStory is replete with refutations of that analysis.

  • Jim Valle

    Not only do we need to retrain our nuclear negotiators, we need to dust off our history books and carefully review the 1930’s. The Munich Era just might hold some valuable lessons for us.