June 20, 2013
The Missile Crisis That Never Went Away
Posted on Oct 16, 2012
By Steven Starr, David Krieger and Daniel Ellsberg
In March 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wrote to one of us (in a personal letter), “One cannot help agreeing to the conclusion that the deployment of [a] missile defense system at the very borders of Russia, as well as upbuilding the system’s capabilities, increase the chance that any conventional military confrontation might promptly turn into nuclear war.”
What happens if NATO collides with Russia somewhere in Georgia, Kaliningrad or perhaps Ukraine, shots are fired and Russia decides to carry out its threats to take out U.S./NATO missile defense installations? What happens if the U.S. should have a president who considers Russia to be America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe?
For many years it has been standard Russian military planning to preemptively use nuclear weapons in any conflict where it would be faced with overwhelming military force, for example, against NATO. The Russians oddly call the policy nuclear “de-escalation,” but it would be better described as “limited nuclear escalation. It was developed and implemented after the U.S. broke its promise not to expand NATO eastward (following the reunification of Germany) and NATO bombed Serbian targets.
The Russian “de-escalation” policy presumes that the use of nuclear weapons against the opposing side will cause them to back down; it is essentially a belief that it is possible to win a nuclear war through the “limited” use of nuclear weapons. But in the case of NATO, the war would be fought against another nuclear power.
U.S. and Russian strategic war plans still contain large nuclear strike options with hundreds of preplanned targets, including cities and urban areas in each other’s nation. As long as launch-ready ICBMs exist, these plans can be carried out in less time than it takes to read this article. They are plans that spell disaster for both countries and for civilization.
Cooperation, rather than conflict, still remains possible. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov writes, “Despite the growing hardship, we do not close the door either for continuing the dialogue with the U.S. and NATO on missile defense issues or for a practical cooperation in this field. In this respect, we find undoubtedly interesting the idea of a freeze on U.S./NATO deployments of missile defense facilities until the joint Russian-U.S. assessment of the threats is completed.”
This could be an important step toward lowering U.S.-Russian tensions, which continue to revolve around their more than 60-year nuclear confrontation. Ending this confrontation can prevent the next missile crisis. Another important step would be the elimination of first-strike ICBMs that continue to threaten the existence of our nation and the human race. This would increase the security of the American people, even if it were done unilaterally.
The U.S. and Russia remain obligated under terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to pursue negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects. Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis, it is well past time to conclude these negotiations. No issue confronting humanity is more urgent than bringing such negotiations to a successful conclusion and moving rapidly to zero nuclear weapons.
Steven Starr is an associate of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a board member and senior scientist for Physicians for Social Responsibility, and director of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at the University of Missouri. His website on the environmental consequences of nuclear war is nucleardarkness.org.
Previous item: The Week the World Stood Still
Next item: Memo to the President: Your Next Debate
New and Improved Comments