It’s hard to break out of a mindset. It’s harder whan you don’t have a simple substitute.
So Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, who spent the heights of their careers in the Cold War, need some disruptive thinking. Let’s see if I can provide it.
At least six of their eight key facts depend heavily on Cold-War assumptions, the major one being that the United States and the Sov...er...Russia are enemies. Is that true?
The Soviet Union died in 1991. Fourteen republics, most of which were unhappy about their forcible integration into the Union, became independent, along with Russia. Two years earlier, Mikhail Gorbachev gave up Soviet puppetry in the satellite nations. Some of those nations have become members of the European Union and NATO.
But it’s Russia that inherited the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. Its capitol continues at Moscow, and it inherited the Red Army. What it did not inherit, explicitly disavowed by Gorbachev was the Soviet policy of exporting class warfare. In fact, after 1991, that policy made no sense in a newly capitalistic Russia.
The nuclear arms race, slowed before then, was ended. America sent help to Russia in converting its nuclear security system to an inventory basis. Americans worked with Russians on other nuclear-related issues, and Russian scientists moved to America.
The two nations do not face each other militarily anywhere, directly or through proxies, and they have worked together in Central Asia.
So what is to be done about those nuclear arsenals? They seem to have a life of their own, with missiles still targeted across the northern hemisphere. Under what circumstances might they be launched? It’s possible to imagine a number of Cold-War-type scenarios, but they seem highly unlikely. The most likely scenario would seem to be accidental. So there is a motivation for eliminating those arsenals as quickly as possible.
Kissinger and Scowcroft’s first three points are straight out of Herman Kahn: strategic stability, and second strike. Strategic stability is a concern, in the credibility of reductions. Their fourth point almost addresses this, but it is in the Kahnian mode. Verification is the basis for this credibility, but, rather than the uncertainty associated with the measurements, the methods are the primary concern. Credibility now lies in the status of warheads taken out of service. That means counting warheads and access to storage and decommissioning facilities, unthinkable in Kahn’s time.
Their point five would apply Kahnian logic to the up-and-coming nuclear powers: China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. But until the United States and Russia come down to several hundred nuclear weapons, this is simply not an issue. The analysis may be worth doing, but it is hard to see how being in the same range of nuclear numbers would damage strategic stability. In any case, none of those countries poses a serious threat to the United States. And joining up together? Please.
Which brings us to point six, which, like point four, has been addressed both in the New START Treaty and the recent Nuclear Posture Review. Bringing in other countries as the US and Russian numbers approach theirs will indeed be necessary. Britain is already addressing its numbers, and, IIRC, the US is beginning informal talks with China.
Point seven is a rehash of point one, strategic stability. People who do that sort of thing do indeed consider missiles, both defensive and offensive. And, again, tactical nuclear weapons are on the New START to-do list. Point eight is being addressed in an ongoing way, as our allies and we work out what defenses are necessary in the post-Cold-War world.
It’s tempting to look for enemies, particularly when that is what one’s career was based on. But the sort of enmity that characterized the Cold War is gone, most likely never to return. What could make it return is refusing to believe that things have changed. The Republican presidential candidates seemed to want to see Russia in the Cold War Soviet mold. I was at a lecture last week where one of the questioners kept referring to the Soviets when he meant the current-day Russians. And now Kissinger and Scowcroft come back to Herman Kahn.
Having one big enemy simplifies a lot of strategy. The world today isn’t offering one up, just a lot of little headaches that could grow bigger.
More disruptive thinking, please!
Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.