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The situation in the sphere of strategic stability - and this notion describes the level of the threat of a nuclear war – has been rapidly deteriorating recently. I would say the current level of threat is comparable to the one shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly led to a disaster. Prior to it, in the 1950-s, the situation that was characterized by an unlimited arms race and desperate enmity seems to have been even worse than now.
The situation is much worse than in 1914, when a series of mistakes sparked WW I, the centenary of which has recently been celebrated. Moreover, the desire of the United States to destroy those humble instruments that were created in the past to reduce military threats is becoming more and more vivid. Washington announced its decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The development trajectory is bringing us back to the 1950-s and 1914 and requires a drastic adjustment of policies that must center on fight for peace.
For 35-40 years after the Cold War countries were ruled by people who had intrinsic memory of its atrocities and who really were afraid of wars, especially nuclear ones. One could joke on "fight for peace" that that generation conducted, but that generation preserved peace. Now grandsons and great-grandsons of those who fought that war are in power, and their fear of a war is wearing off. The number of belligerent statements has been growing. The addiction to peace and seemingly innocent computer or TV war games are reducing resistance of societies as well. And worrying uncertainty in the minds of both the elites and the masses prompts simple solutions.
A drastic fall in the quality of governing classes, especially in the West, is making the situation even more complicated. The American problem is in the public eye. And in Europe... Well, it is enough to imaginatively compare the leaders of the Old World 30-40 years ago and now.
An unprecedentedly rapid redistribution of power in the world over the past 15-20 years is a strong destabilization factor. It has seemed just recently that the West secured the final victory. And now it is defending angrily. It looks like that the motto of the past decades - "how to govern the rise of the new" - has to be changed to another - "how to govern the fall of the old."
Two globalist ideologies of the 20th century, communism and liberalism, collapsed. Various kinds of nationalism are swiftly filling the vacuum. The rise of Asia, a continent of nation states, is cushioning this trend. Old conflicts are getting unfrozen and new conflicts are emerging there: Japan vs its neighbors, China vs India, Sunni monarchies vs Iran. The situation in the military-technical sphere cannot help but be worrying. A series of attacks on the countries that had given up nuclear weapons, primarily Iraq and Libya, is thrusting the position of those want to acquire this kind of weapons. The US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty in 2003, from the Iranian nuclear deal recently, and now from the INF Treaty take the wind out of sails of the non-proliferation regime. An extremely dangerous race in the sphere of cyberarms is underway, and some states probably have strategic cyberarms that are capable of destroying economies and societies.
A new generation of non-nuclear arms that are strategic in nature and that negate the difference between nuclear and conventional wars has been created and is now being deployed.
The current wave of robotizing arms using artificial intelligence is also worrying. It negates the difference between war and peace and weakening political control and responsibility of leaders for their actions.
The arms limitation regime that was formed in 1970-s-1980-s was not flawless. Frequently, negotiations imposed or even provoked the race of arms and military expenditures, in order to collect what is called "trumps for bargain." It is based majorly on an artificial criterion – the balance or equal number of arms and armed forces. And it was especially useless in case of negotiations on arms and armed forces in Europe, where Napoleon and Suvorov invariably were defeating larger armies and 300 Spartans blocked the Persian army of 100,000 soldiers.
However, the past arms limitation process is likely to have been useful in general. It promoted better political climate and greater predictability.
But this process is almost dead. First, NATO refused to modernize the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, although arms and armed forces of former Warsaw Pact countries and of some Soviet republics turned out to be on its side. The US cast a lethal blow to this process by withdrawing from the ABM Treaty in 2003. This treaty was a cornerstone of the whole concept of strategic arms limitations. No advantage was predictably gained. Russia started to modernize its strategic and near-strategic forces, creating a new generation of systems that reliably bypass any missile defense. President Vladimir Putin told about such arms in his famous address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018. They preemptively devaluate huge US investments. One can say that Russia is winning the arms race without being involved into it.
Now the withdrawal from the INF Treaty. Probably, sooner or later time will come for the last strategic arms limitation treaty, the New START Treaty. There are several goals: to try to again restore military dominance that is the base for the West's 500-year dominance in the global political, economic, cultural and ideological spheres. Another even more obvious goal is to clear the path for the planned large-scale modernization of strategic systems.
No one is even hiding the desire to drag Russia and China into an arms race. I am sure that some hope to fuel the mutual suspicion of the two countries by provoking them for the creation of new-generation intermediate-range systems. Such systems will inevitably be considered as directed against each other.
There probably exist genetic weapons that in particular are capable of covertly infecting seed stock causing disastrous fall in harvest, loss of cattle and maybe even damaging ethnic and social group of people in the future (how distant is it?).
And an angry propaganda war, the demonization of the other side, especially Russia, has been unleashed against the backdrop of dangerous strategic and political shifts. The propaganda orgy does look like psychological preparations for a war. Although it is possible that it has other roots that can be found primarily in domestic politics. The combination of the aforementioned factors prompts an unambiguous conclusion – the situation is acutely pre-war.
What to do?
In this situation, given successes in the Middle East and in the military-political sphere, Russia's foreign policy is not plausible enough. More about its mistakes is in another article.
I wouldn't say a word about the absence of a rapid economic growth strategy as the core response to an unleashed cold war against us. I will just center on some areas of foreign policy that I consider important and where achievement can be reached.
To continue with NATO, political dialogue with the alliance that committed a series of acts of aggression must include the issue of reparations and compensations to victims of its aggressions, but not only and not so much Crimea or Donbas. And military dialogue, even more active than now, is needed. If Russia's permanent representative to NATO is kept in position, then he should a general accompanied by civilian advisors.
Military activity in the western direction should be reduced. Russia as far as possible should resist provocations that are and will be coming from circles interested in restoring the structure of relationships of the past Cold War in the Atlantic region and in relations with Russia.
And it is for sure that Russia should not retort about our rather humble but relatively effective defense efforts, but should constantly point at the fact that NATO countries are spending somewhat 20 times more on the military sphere and have much more men in arms.
It would be useful to propose dialogue on maintaining European security to the European Union that is searching for an opportunity of becoming an actor in this sphere. We have many common and even coinciding interests. Such dialogue would keep this search from sliding into confrontation with Russia. There is no need for speedy military and technical reaction to the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty. This step is disadvantageous for everyone. But Americans should pay the utmost price becoming in the eyes of the international community what they really are – the key challenge to international security and strategic stability.
If there is a need to respond with additional arms, they may be deployed later. It seems that the same line should be pursued in case of a possible termination of the New START Treaty by Washington.
But in any case, the philosophy of the approach to the role of arms limitation in the system of security means has to be changed. Its reinstatement is impossible, because of the destructive position of the United States. In the past, the question of what and how to count was complicated, now as the arms systems grow more sophisticated, margins between them are getting dim and as the number of strategic actors is growing, it's next to impossible to answer it.
And it is for sure that the retreat from the principle of matching balance is needed. It is likely that a part of strategic potential inherited from the past – sea- and ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple re-entry vehicles and strategic aviation - should be kept, modernized and its capacity should be expanded. They are needed to maintain the status and to make the other country fear of an inevitable mass strike in response to aggressive actions. And torpedo submarines with huge warheads that are capable of "sleeping" for years near the shore of countries pursuing hostile policies and new heavy missiles capable of counterattacking at any angle are very useful to this end.
And then we should go to the "grey zone." Theoretically, openness is useful for boosting predictability of a strategic situation. But it is profitable primarily for a richer country that is capable of taking a lead in an arms race, imposing its pace and setting directions. The Soviet Union tried to be an equal, including through keeping "balance", but it broke down. If the other side opts for the policy of enmity, for getting again into a race for chimeric dominance, and for not caring about concluded agreements, then there is no point in playing the old rules. It is better to focus on asymmetric, partly hidden and cheaper options. If one fails to stop the arms race, it is better to be winning it with ability, not with numbers. The concept of "strategic ambiguity", when the other side doesn't know what you will take out of a pocket – a candy, a handkerchief or a gun - would help here. China that is hiding its nuclear potential and capabilities in the cybersphere largely adheres to this line.
Naturally, the proposed line is not the best. It increases risks. But remaining on the old path of an arms race and its limitation is overly expensive and senseless, especially in relations with the partners who cannot be trusted after what they have said.
A Russia-China-US trialogue on measures to maintain international strategic stability could be a partial alternative to the old arms limitations process. In the future, if Beijing and Washington agree to such a forum, other strategically important states, both nuclear and near-nuclear, could be invited to the discussion. Such a format should be supported by the weakened network of "hotlines" between defense agencies of the leading states. The goal is to avoid an accidental escalation of a conflict or a provocation. Instead of agreed-on limitations and reductions of arms, one should try to start making agreed-on unilateral steps in the future.
We should also try to limit areas of the arms race, in particular in space and in the sphere of genetic arms. So far, efforts don't yield results. But we should work to attain them in future. We are now at a crossroad of historic eras, where "those losing" are using every tool available, including in the military, political, economic, and information spheres, to stop or reverse the history, while "those winning" are not aware of their victory, of what it is and of how to use its fruits.
The main thing now is to prevent an even more likely new big war that can destroy both "those so far winning" and "those now losing" and an end the history of mankind.
That is why fight for peace should become the key political task for all responsible forces and countries, primarily Russia. And peace should be fought for through effective deterrence, through building multilateral communication systems between top brass and politicians, and through exposing, excuse my old-fashioned sincerity, the forces and countries that fanning up confrontation and unleashing a new arms race. We should awake the mankind from the lethargy of strategic parasitism, the addiction to peace, and switch on its protective functions. Naturally, modern means and technologies must be used in this old-new fight, but it is in great demand. And I suggest that propagandists and journalists think about how to fight this battle.
Now, almost all decent "old men," who prevented a nuclear disaster in the past but who failed to create a durable security system after the past Cold War and who "lost in the fight for peace", are calling for a new fight against the escalating war threat. We should engage new age groups that are so far "sleeping," although they are the primary targets of a war, into this fight.
Fight for peace is not nostalgia for the times of youth. Lies and enmity of the past Cold War arouses my loathing, but our stupidity, naiveté, and hope for a lucky chance of the period that followed it make me shameful, too. No one will be able to protect our and key global interests, but ourselves.