Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Bear Emerges from Hibernation

THOUGH I AM MORE of a cynical centrist politically, I subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. Back in 2000, I chanced upon an item about Anheuser-Busch splitting its stock and posting good earnings, which led me to snag 50 shares prior to the split date. Based on the results, I decided to subscribe to see if I could spot any other decent opportunities. As a side effect, I got a closer view of the dotcom rise and fall and the whole Enron disaster that followed.

I read the opinion pages, though I don't always agree with them. This morning, there was a riveting piece by Sergei Ivanov, Russia's deputy prime minister and minister of defense. I don't have a subscription to the reputedly excellent online Journal, but if you do, check it out on It carries the attention-getting title, "Russia Must Be Strong."

Some time ago, in a discussion with friends about current and past communist states, I was overruled when I said we might have concern over a resurgent Russia. They believed China was the greater threat. In light of recent events — its military overtures toward Taiwan, its aggressive stance over the collision between our plane and theirs some years ago, its omnivorous drive to build up its economy and access natural resources — I concede their point. But this article suggests that Russia might bear not only scrutiny, but comparison to a certain Western nation.

Here are some quotes and points from Ivanov's article:
We have seen a steady trend pointing at a broader scope of use of military force recently, not least because more challenges to national security have emerged. Chief among them is interference in Russia's internal affairs by foreign states — either directly or through structures that they support — and the attempts of some countries, coalitions, and extremist terrorists organizations to develop or gain access to weapons of mass destruction.

The primary task for the armed forces is to prevent conventional and nuclear aggression against Russia. Hence our firm commitment to the principle of pre-emption. We define pre-emption not only as a capability to deliver strikes on terrorist groups but as other measures designed to prevent a threat from emerging long before there is a need to confront it.
As a child of the 1980s, I get twitchy when I hear about Russia looking to strike out at perceived threats. I don't doubt that it felt that way to old-line hawks now in their closing years in the Beltway and salted away, Nixon-like, in exclusive condominiums across suburbia. But this is really Russia following President Bush's example. Bush made it clear after 9/11 that he was going to act against terrorists in any country, with that nation's assistance or not. which was the government's rationale in its (justifiable) operation in unseating the Taliban and killing or capturing leading al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and has been the continuing justification for our war in Iraq. So the Administration can't really get in a swivet over Putin working to strike potential terrorists like those who hit the school in Beslan and the opera house in Moscow in (to cite the article) "some members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the club of former Soviet republics, and the regions around them." [italics mine]

After mentioning the need to upgrade the aging Soviet war machine, Ivanov asks, "What would a modern fighting force look like?" Observers on the train would have seen me zero in on the paper at this point: "Our best option is a mobile force in which the air, and probably space, component will be a decisive factor in success. What is also clear is that the winner in a future war will be capable of forming an integrated, real-time intelligence picture. . . ."

The space part arrested my attention. The second sentence of that quote may suggest that the space component represents satellite assets, which is nothing new for any major power. However, when Ivanov begins ticking off the priorities of the "Military Development Plan for 2006-2010" (oh, those Russians and their five-year plans!), I wondered: "The first is to maintain and develop a strategic deterrent capability minimally sufficient for guaranteed repulsion of contemporary and future military threats." He then lists two nuclear ballistic missiles that have ranges of about 7,200 miles and a new type of nuclear-missile sub. "And this is just the top of the list. Needless to say, these are not aimed at any particular target. We have always honored our commitments . . . including those . . . on reductions and limitations of strategic offensive weapons."

Considering the range of the missiles in question, this could also be the space component Ivanov cited. I doubt these will be needed for killing well-masqueraded Chechen rebels in their lairs. Of local threats on whom these missiles might be needed, I come up with China, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Iran. Especially Iran, which has just broken the seals on its Natanz nuclear-research lab in the same sort of bird North Korea flipped us by turning off the IAEA cameras at Yongbyon and firing up the works to produce plutonium.

I will editorially interject (for what else is a blog?) and say that this is the second Axis of Evil power to take steps that could lead to crafting and perfecting a nuclear weapon. No, the second one isn't Iraq. What's more, Iran — swimming in petroleum — hasn't had to resort to bribery and smuggling to get the resources it needs as North Korea has, or as Iraq was suspected of doing. It can flat-out fucking buy triggers and centrifuges and yellowcake. I do not believe that we should have invaded, or should contemplate invading, Iran or North Korea, even after their intentions became plain. However, if we had exercised the effort and invested the money we used in the entire Iraq misadventure, from the Niger-memo forgery through this day, we could have convinced at least one of these powers to return to negotiations, or erected a cordon sanitaire around them, to deny their access to the dangerous tools of nuclear-weapons design. (We could also have hired a damn good hitman to take out that traitorous fuck A.Q. Khan and his network once and for all. Beatrix Kiddo, please pick up the red courtesy phone.)

I also point out that the Bush Administration has chafed against the test bans recently, desiring to advance work on the small "bunker buster" nukes, even as we're dismantling and decommissioning older weapons. So Russia's not the only one taking stock of what sort of nuclear weapons it might need to face what it considers its potential opponents.

As to those Chechen insurgents and the steps Russia might take in defending itself, Ivanov says:
The second priority is the development of conventional forces — high-alert units in the army, air force, navy, and airborne force, manned only by professional soldiers, that will form the backbone of deployable task forces. . . . All this explains the need for rearmament, new military acquisitons, . . . R&D . . . and the optimization of the national defense industry to find a balance between the commitment to arm the Russian military and an opportunity to export arms to countries not subject to U.N. sanctions.
It's understandable that Russia wants to use some of its newfound oil wealth to reconstruct its crumbling, demoralized military, particularly its equivalent of our Special Forces, the Spetsnatz, the "high-alert units" to which I assume Ivanov's referring. Interesting to see, though, that it wants to continue its historic role in the international arms trade. The Soviets gave away millions of its iconic AK-47s to Third World revolutionaries and licensed the production of it and other weapons to its client states in Eastern Europe. Now it wants to come up with new, attractive defense gear — sold, of course, only to those states not on the UN's shitlist. Again, nothing we're not doing, nor the Belgians with their FN-FAL rifle, nor the Israelis with the Uzi. War sells.

Ivanov closes by citing Russia's desire to use its professionally trained troops to assist in peacekeeping work and to resume theater-level combat exercises in its sphere of influence. At this point I wondered if Russia would return to giving grand May Day parades of its latest missiles and sharpest soldiers, while Putin gazed down from the Kremlin wall. Perhaps this closing sentence might guide us: "Russia deserves a fighting force of the 21st century, a force that will look into the future but will at the same time continue its glorious military tradition."

If we are lucky, and if someday have more deft leadership and diplomatic representation than we currently field, perhaps we can come to some new partnership with a resurgent Russia as its neighbor to the south, China, becomes a greater economic threat; or perhaps as a way to leverage Iran and North Korea into understanding the error of their ways. But as I said, I am a product of the 1980s, and part of me wonders if Russia will get itchy to use its shiny new military in ways other than defensive and counterterrorist. To cite and modernize the old Chekhov axiom, you can't put a loaded Kalashnikov on stage unless you intend for it to be fired.

At whom, and by whom, should receive the attention of our more clairvoyant foreign-policy sages. Or, as they used to be called, Kremlinologists.

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